A Black Friday sale item caught my eye on Amazon for just under $40.
The first thing that jumps out is the coverage: FM/MW/SW/AIR/VHF/Weather. It also has weather alerts, MP3 Play/Record, external antenna jack, AUX in jack and a flashlight/reading light. There are a number of things about this radio that are different from other radios I have owned, and I want to focus on those here, as well as cover features and performance.
I have never encountered a radio before that provides for user installed firmware updates. Mine has version 2.8. LiJiANi provides firmware updates upon request. Version 2.8 added AIR band squelch, something the radios didn’t have a month ago. The email address in the Version 2.1 User Guide was wrong; however, it’s updated today in the V2.9 manual. Thanks to a commenter for letting me know the correct address! [Update: I now have the V2.9 firmware installed.] [Update 2: Now it’s 3.0, changing the default tuning step on FM to 100 kHz instead of 50 (yea!). There is an updated 3.0 manual, but I didn’t spot any feature changes.]
Fit and Finish
The radio is fairly small, almost exactly the same size as the Tecsun PL-330, but a little thicker to accommodate optional AA batteries that can be installed instead of the provided BL-5C. Specifically it’s 28 x 85 x 138 mm (1.1 x 3.4 x 5.4 inches).
Close up, you can see that the radio doesn’t look expensive. The matte finish on the front panel is just too grainy. Still, the buttons work quite well and the tuning knob feels sturdy and works flawlessly. The telescopic antenna is quite thin, necessary to get a good length in such a small collapsed package. Take care when collapsing the antenna by starting from the base segment of the antenna and working outward.
The Rd239 doesn’t seem to copy any other radio I’ve seen. For example, the radio can be set for 9 or 10 kHz step on MW. That’s quite common, but on every other radio I have seen, once the step is set, the radio advances only on the channels common to that step. On the Rd239, the radio steps the set amount regardless of the standard channels. So if the radio is set to a frequency of 555 kHz and the step is set to 10 kHz, the next steps will be 565, 575, 585 …, rather than 560, 570, 580….
The biggest operational annoyance on the radio is FM tuning. The tuning step is 50 kHz, and in North America that means you have to advance the tuning knob 4 times to advance one 200 kHz channel. [Update: This is changed to 100 kHz with firmware version 3.0. Thank you,]
The display backlight comes on when a button is pushed or the tuning knob turned. It times out after 5 seconds. I can’t find any way to keep it on. That’s a shame because of one rather significant feature on this radio that’s extremely rare now: the buttons are illuminated along with the display! [Update: As of firmware version 2.9, the back light can be set to stay on up to 20 seconds. I think that is a good compromise.]
One feature fairly common in radios with music players is the ability to mute the radio using the Play/Pause button. I really like the feature and this one has it.
There are FREQ and MEM keys akin to VF/VM keys on some other radios that switch modes between tuning by frequency and retrieving memory presets. The mode controls how the tuning knob works, either advancing through the presets, or incrementing frequency. After 10 seconds with no turn, the radio reverts to frequency mode. There are also up and down keys that seem to be stuck on the MEM setting. A press/hold of the arrow keys causes the radio to scan for the next station (by frequency). There is also a SCAN button that scans for stations and stores them in memory, during which time the radio is silent. More on ATS later on in the Memory System section. On the weather band, the SCAN invokes the weather alert feature, a logical choice of button.
I ran my standard AM/FM Daytime scan and the Rd239 scored rather well, better than I anticipated.
In particular, it outperformed the XHDATA D-109 and quite a few others. Clearly, this radio was needed in my Battle of the under $50 shortwave radios. [Update: Now check: Battle of the under $50 shortwave radios: Take 2
On its first outing, it picked up a nice signal from Japan through a 20-foot Wire Up a Tree (WUT) antenna on 12095 kHz. It had no problem with WWV or CHU. While the much more expensive Eton Elite Executive (visible in the background) had better results, they were not all that much better.
Here is the frequency coverage and sensitivity data:
The radio has an external antenna jack that is supposed to work on all bands except MW. I found the jack extremely tight and it was difficult to accommodate a 3.5 mm plug. I ended up clipping on the external antenna.
The whip antenna is considerably longer than I would expect from a radio of this size, 23″. I did most of my first shortwave testing with the external antenna, but it wasn’t deaf with the telescopic.
I tried the Rd239 against an XHDATA D-808 connected to an external speaker through an A/B switch. I think the Rd239 sounded better.
I tried Citizens Band outdoors with the whip antenna. I punched in 27.085 (Channel 11) and picked up stations there and on some other CB frequencies.
AIR band isn’t a big player where I live and I don’t pay much attention to it, although I have a few radios with the band (PL-660, Eton Elite Executive, XHDATA D-808 and Raddy RF75A) and I have gotten a few transmissions before. The Rd239 did pick up some air traffic plus some guy droning on in Spanish that I thought might be an image.
I punched in my local NOAA weather station frequency in the VHF band and picked up the station, albeit not as strong as it was on weather band.
Here’s a shot in the dark, receiving CFRX 6070, Toronto, Canada (about 400 miles away) indoors around 12:00 UTC here in Virginia on the telescopic antenna, and receiving it quite well! The following video highlights the illuminated button feature as well.
I’m having some problems with the external antenna. I hooked up my MLA-30+ and all I got was raucous noise, compared with another radio where the loop antenna worked fine. I tracked it down to noise from the power supply connected to the low noise amplifier, but that power supply causes no problems for other radios. Running from a DC power battery pack fixed that problem. It could be that the radio jack is 1/8″, and some of my plugs are 3.5mm (larger). The radio is rather sensitive just on the telescopic antenna, so I’ll probably not use it with an external antenna often.
I received two NOAA weather stations, which is one better than most weather radios I’ve tried. Reception was good indoors on the local station even without extending the antenna.
Alert is engaged by a long-press of the SCAN button while on the weather band. In alert mode “ALE” appears on the display when in alert mode and the first LED of the bar is on. It continuously scans all the NOAA weather bands for an alert. It’s not necessary to tune to an active station before engaging the alert. NOAA weather alerts were detected in my testing.
The memory system is a little unusual; it has two memory systems: Quickset and Preset. Quickset memories are assigned to the keys 1-9. Simply pressing the key retrieves that station. Each band has its own Quicksets. There are 99 additional “Preset” memories for each band (except Weather). Presets can can be manually added or deleted in addition to automatic storage from a scan function. By my count, there are a total of 540 station memories, 108 per band except Weather.
This radio scans the entire frequency range for HF, not just the international broadcast bands. That means it stores SSB signals on ham radio that it can’t properly detect. It also takes 8:54 to scan the SW bands, much slower than radios that only scan the broadcast bands.
I have to say that the flashlight is phenomenal! No radio flashlight (and few dedicated flashlights) I’ve owned are even close to this one’s brightness. In addition, it has a diffuse reading light, both lights on the side of the radio. A switch on the back of the radio selects the light.
The radio doubles as a music player, supporting MP3, WMA, WAV, APE and FLAC formats on TF/Micro SD cards up to 256GB. Unlike some radios that support music playing, this one handles large music collections with no problem. One can simply punch in the track number, like “1200,” and the radio will skip to that track. The tuning knob can also advance to the next track, allowing rapid scrolling.
While playing a radio station, a long press of the ·REC key starts and any press of it stops the recording function. The radio can also record from an internal microphone. When I recorded from FM, the results were excellent. Recording from Weather Band introduced some noise. Noise on shortwave depended on the station.
A long press of the REC FILE button switches between general music files on the TF card and ones recorded by the radio (that are stored in the RECORDF) folder. Attempting to play recordings when the currently accessed folder is empty results in the “Err” message. Microphone recordings appear in the RECORDM folder.
Some of my music tracks, particularly classical ones, are recorded at a fairly low level. Listening to them requires turning up the volume quite high. One common problem, with this radio also, is that turning up the volume results in some distortion. Normal music is OK, but trying to compensate for an uber quiet track doesn’t work well.
Like many music player radios, this one also has equalizer presets for Normal, POP, Rock. Jazz, Classical and Country. I never bother with them.
When the USB-C port is connected through a data cable to a Windows PC, the PC can access files on the SD card. The radio has to be on for this to work. It’s a nice feature for organizing your music on the radio memory card.
I’m hearing impaired, so my hearing aids are tuned to enhance speech. The result is that I’m not the best one to judge audio performance of a radio. It seemed to me that the bass was decent and the highs were strong, with the midrange underperforming (fair common in radios of this size and price). The radio can be turned up very loud. But I need to do more testing on this. In any case, it was pleasant to listen to FM programs. With Thanksgiving Day in the past, most radio music is Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
There is a clock, alarm and sleep timer. The clock does NOT display when the radio is off, nor when the radio is on! It only displays in the no man’s land between states. Turning the radio on requires two presses of the power button; the first turns on the clock and the second turns on the radio. A quick press of the Lock button will briefly display the clock when the radio is off. A long press of the power button turns the radio off, with the clock displaying for a few moments until it’s fully off. This reminds me of the Raddy RF75A radio that has what it calls the “clock state” where certain settings must be made.
The radio can accept 3 AA batteries or one BL-5C battery (but not at the same time). The instructions say to use alkaline AA batteries because rechargeable ones have insufficient voltage. AA batteries are intended for emergency backup, and the BL-5C (included) for standard operation. Charging of the BL-5C is achieved through the USB-C jack.
What I really would like to compare to this radio is the Sihuadon/XHDATA R-108, but I don’t have one (update: on order). The new XHDATA D-109WB is my initial target for shortwave and Weather. The original D-109 was the best shortwave in my under $50 challenge. I think I’ll also do some AIR band comparisons, and perhaps look at how it stacks up against the Raddy RF75A on Weather, AIR and VHF. [Update: The R-108 is here and the comparison is: Battle of the under $50 shortwave radios: Take 2.]
This has been a fun little radio. It covers quite a large section of the radio spectrum. It has flexible power options, and I’m sure a small plug-in USB solar panel would work nicely as well. It’s no slouch on performance. For the hard core shortwave listener, a radio must have SSB, which this one (and every one in its price rage) does not. For everybody else , it’s a viable option, particularly for a travel radio due to its small size.
Pricing for this thing is a moving target. I bought mine for $39.80 plus tax from Amazon on sale for Black Friday/Cyber Monday. Immediately afterwards, the price jumped to $58 with a $14 coupon. Then it went to $49.90 (December 2, 2023) with a $5 coupon, $46.99 (December 19, 2023) and $49.90 (January 31, 2024). Given the feature set, I think the price is reasonable.
I hope to complete another article that I am currently working on by mid February 2024: The Thunderous Clash of the Weather Radios. It will compare the LiJiANi Rd236, XHDATA D-109WB, D-608WB, HanRongDa HRD-701, Mesqool CR1009 Pro, CR1015 and the Raddy RF75A.