What Is a Weather Alert Radio?

(If you are already familiar with weather alert radios and how they work, feel free to skip this section and proceed to the actual review.) Just as a smoke detector alerts you to a potential fire in your home, a weather alert radio alerts you to emergencies and disasters by flashing lights, displaying a quick description of the emergency on its LED screen, and, depending on the severity of the situation, blasting an alarm to get your attention.

How Does the Weather Alert Radio Do This?

The National Weather Service operates its own network of radio stations across the United States and its territories. These stations broadcast 24/7, using a computerized voice that provides up-to-date local weather information and, in some areas, maritime conditions. These stations are also connected to the federal Emergency Alert System (EAS), which transmits alerts of actual and potential emergencies and disasters, including weather issues such as severe storms and hurricanes, as well as non-weather emergencies, such as water contamination, a chemical spill, an Amber Alert, or suspected terrorist activity. When there is an emergency, or a need to warn people that conditions are ripe for an emergency (such as a tornado watch), the EAS broadcasts a tone that is a code for a specific type of emergency. National Weather Service transmitters pick up the code and then broadcast the code, along with an audio alert regarding the advisory, watch, or emergency. The process is automated, which means that these broadcasts reach weather alert radios very quickly. The radio (if it is turned on) plays a loud sound that alerts you to the incoming message.

The Midland WR120 Features

This radio offers several programming and display features.

Geographic Programming

Weather alert radios need to be programmed so that they tune in to the transmitter closest to where you are. In addition, it is possible to restrict or expand the geographical coverage for getting emergency alerts. For example, you might choose to receive alerts that are only in your immediate area, or you could choose to be notified of events taking place further away from your location, providing that they are within range of the radio transmitter. You cannot program this radio to send alerts.

Event Programming

It is also possible to program the types of events you want to be alerted to. For example, you may decide that you don’t want an alarm to sound if there is a tornado or flood watch. The radio can be programmed to disable the alarm so that you aren’t bothered. Not all alerts can be disabled, however. Warnings for major emergencies and disasters, such as wildfires, tornados, and chemical hazards, will always sound an alarm.


The radio has an LED display with a backlight that can be turned on and off. Normally, the display shows the time, though this changes if an emergency alert is coming through. When that happens, a brief description of what is happening will appear in the display. You can program the radio to display in English, Spanish, or French. Below the display are three lights: One for warnings (red), watches (yellow), and advisories (green). These lights, combined with the LED display, allow you to get a general idea of what is going on, as well as the level of danger, just by looking at your radio.

Station Access

The Midland WR120 only operates on the weather band, which means that you’ll be able to tune in to your local NOAA transmitter and hear weather news and receive alerts. You won’t be able to listen to local AM or FM stations.

Power Sources

Unlike emergency radios, which can be powered by batteries, hand crank, or even solar power, weather alert radios need to be plugged into an outlet to remain in standby mode. The radio does have a battery backup option, however: Three AA alkaline batteries provide up to six hours of power for a radio that is turned on for constant listening and 72 hours of power if the radio is kept in standby mode.

Wall Mounting

The radio is designed to sit on a flat surface (such as a nightstand, desk, or shelf) but can also be mounted on a wall, providing that it is near an outlet. This is a great option if you have limited space in your home.

Additional Ports

The radio has three ports on the back: One is an external antenna port, which is a good option for those living in rural areas who need a stronger antenna to pick up a signal. The radio also has a cloning port, which allows you to transfer radio settings between different radios. Cloning makes a lot of sense if your household or property has several radios in operation. The final port is for external alert devices, such as a strobe light, that can be used by people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Alarm and Snooze Button

The WR120 does double duty as an alarm clock, and yes, it does have a snooze button. Just be aware that, depending on how you have this radio programmed, it may go off in the middle of the night to advise you of an event. While this is good if there is an actual emergency, you may not want to lose sleep over a thunderstorm watch.

How to Use the Midland WR120

Midland provides detailed instructions for setting up your radio in the user manual. The key things to pay attention to are as follows:

What I Like About the Midland WR120

I’ve had my radio for a few years now. I live in Chicago, a place that doesn’t have a lot of huge weather disasters, but extreme cold, high winds, flooding, and even the occasional tornado have been known to make an appearance. My radio has alerted me to flooding, thunderstorms, tornadoes, and bitter cold. It has also advised me of a 911 outage and at least one Amber Alert. Alerts come very quickly: More quickly than text and email-based messages, which can be important in situations where minutes matter. The radio is sturdy and well made. I particularly like the LCD screen with the color-coded alerts: I can tell at a glance what is going on without having to turn on the radio. I also appreciate that the radio will alert me if the backup batteries are running low. The radio makes an annoying squawking sound that only goes away after I’ve replaced the batteries. Finally, the fact that the radio is designed to be plugged into a wall has an important benefit: Unlike a portable transistor or emergency radio, you won’t be as likely to lose the Midland WR120 in a closet, drawer, or basement shelving unit. The radio sits in one place, ensuring that it is there when you need it.

Why the WR120 Should not Be Your Only Radio

The WR120 is a reliable weather radio that alerts you and your family to bad weather, natural disasters, and other emergencies. The NWS station broadcasts also keep you and your family informed during these crises. The radio does, however, have some limitations, which is why it should not be the only radio in your emergency preparation kit:

Dependence on Electrical Power

Because weather alert radios are on all the time, waiting for EAS tones that signal an emergency situation, they need a steady stream of electrical power. The WR120 does have battery backup, but this backup is limited to up to 6 hours of continuous broadcasting or up to three days of a standby connection. If you run out of batteries, the radio will no longer work. An emergency radio with multiple power sources (battery, solar, hand crank) should also be a part of your emergency supply kit, along with a supply of batteries. Note: If you do end up losing electricity, or end up unplugging the radio at some point, be sure to check the batteries after the danger has passed. They may need to be replaced.

Lack of Portability

As noted above, I like the fact that this is a desktop radio that needs to be plugged in as it keeps the radio accessible. However, there is a downside to this: It’s not designed to be carried with you, so you’ll want a portable emergency radio for your go bag or a work/car emergency kit. If part of your household emergency plan is to move into the basement (or another safe, reinforced room), during a disaster, keep another radio in that room so that you don’t have to take the time to unplug and move your WR120.

No AM/FM Band Access

The WR120 only tunes into the weather band. If the NWS transmitter in your area isn’t operating correctly, you may not be able to tune in and get the information you need. Having access to the AM and FM bands ensures that you’ll be able to get information from other local stations even if your NWS transmitter isn’t broadcasting. You’ll also want access to AM/FM stations for other reasons: The first is boredom. After a while, you are going to get sick of hearing a computerized voice replaying the latest NWS report. The ability to access live radio will provide you with some respite as you wait out a disaster. The second is that local radio stations have reporters who can bring you more comprehensive information about what is happening. You may be able to hear interviews with local officials and emergency management specialists, along with information about what charities and businesses are doing to provide relief.

Final Recommendation

This is a sturdy, reliable, and affordable weather alert radio that will serve most households well. While I do recommend having an additional emergency radio, this radio can be an important component of your family’s emergency preparedness plans.

Midland Weather Radio WR120 Rating

Review of Midland Weather Radio WR120 - 56