AM/FM radio is still very popular, despite the growth of DAB radio. Many people find AM/FM radio has better signal with less interference than DAB radio.
Another advantage of AM/FM radios is that they are usually very easy to use, without lots of complicated features. They’re also less power hungry than DAB radios, so you can save money on batteries.
Here’s a roundup of some of the best portable AM/FM radios available in the UK in 2018.
Best AM/FM Radios (UK 2018)
Choosing an AM/FM Radio
Here are a few things to think about when choosing an AM/FM radio.
Most AM/FM radios on the market right now cost between £10 and £50. For £10-£30 you can get a basic portable or pocket radio without any special features. AM/FM radios with a CD player or other extra features will typically cost around £30-50.
Size and portability
AM/FM radios are usually quite small and portable, with the option to power them with batteries or the mains. You can also choose a pocket radio if you want something to put in your pocket while gardening, walking or exercising etc. Pocket radios are small and light and use earphones/headphones as an aerial.
You might want to consider the following features:
- Headphone jack – If you want to listen to the radio privately, make sure it has a headphone jack.
- Batteries – Most portable AM/FM radios take AA or C-size batteries, though some have a built-in rechargeable battery. Consider which would be most convenient for you. If you don’t have a battery recharger and don’t want to keep buying batteries, a built-in battery might be more convenient.
- Digital or analogue tuning – A digital display means you can tune into a frequency precisely, whereas with an analogue display you might have to spend more time fiddling with the tuning to get the best reception. However, lots of people prefer an old-fashioned tuning dial to a modern digital display.
- Presets – Being able to save preset stations means you won’t need to spend a lot of time retuning the radio. Lots of radios allow you to save the frequencies of your favourite stations so you can access them quickly.
- Alarm – An alarm could be useful if you use the radio in the bedroom or the kitchen. Check whether the radio you’re looking at has an alarm if this would be a useful feature for you.
Understanding AM, FM, LW, MW and SW
One of the confusing things about AM/FM radios is the number of different acronyms used. What’s the difference between, AM, FM, LW, MW and SW? Here’s a brief explanation of what these terms mean.
AM stands for “amplitude modification”. It transfers information by varying the amplitude of the carrier wave. It’s the oldest method of transmitting radio broadcasts and while FM and DAB are now more popular, several stations still broadcast on AM in the UK.
AM broadcasts are segmented into different broadcast bands: MW, LW and SW.
MW stands for “medium wave”. It ranges from 526.5 kHz to 1606.5 kHz. The UK’s most popular AM radio station, BBC Radio Five Live, broadcasts on MW using frequencies 693 and 909 kHz.
LW stands for “longwave”. In Europe it refers to the frequencies from 30 to 300 kHz. BBC Radio 4 is available on 198 kHz longwave, though most people listen to it on FM.
SW stands for “shortwave”. It uses the highest frequencies, and while it isn’t precisely defined, frequencies range from at least 1.7 to 30 MHz. Shortwave radio is useful for long-distance broadcasting as it allows radio waves to be refracted or reflected by the ionosphere, travelling beyond the horizon.
FM stands for “frequency modulation”. It’s a method of transmitting radio broadcasts that involves varying the frequency of the carrier wave to transfer information. Up until recently, FM was the most popular way to broadcast and receive radio in the UK, though DAB is now starting to take over.
Should You Still Buy an AM/FM Radio in 2018?
You might be hesitant about buying an AM/FM radio in 2018 given that the UK government has previously expressed an intention to switch off analogue radio at some point in the future.
However, there’s still no definite date for a switchover, and it looks unlikely that AM and FM will be switched off in the next 5 years. Earlier this year, the BBC’s director of radio and music Bob Shennan said that a “switchover now would be premature”, implying that the BBC will continue to broadcast on FM for the foreseeable future.
DAB has never been very popular among the UK public due to reception issues. It’s also quite a dated technology already—most other countries that use digital radio use DAB+ instead. Given the relatively slow uptake of DAB radio in the UK, it’s even possible that internet radios and other streaming devices will overtake DAB radios in popularity before an FM switchoff comes.
Most new radios sold in the UK come with both FM and DAB/DAB+, so they are more futureproof than the radios reviewed here and also offer a greater choice of stations.
Some of the reasons you might still want to buy an analogue radio in 2018 include the following:
- Better battery life – Portable DAB radios are notoriously power hungry)
- Familiarity – If you like to stick with what you know, there’s no shame in choosing a straightforward analogue radio.
- LW, MW and SW programming – Certain stations and broadcasts are only available on LW, MW or SW.
If we had to pick just on of these radios to recommend it would be the Roberts R9993. It’s one of the UK’s most popular AM/FM radios for a reason; the Roberts R9993 is well made, affordable and easy to use.
For some more radios to consider, see these articles: