“ A wind up radio with a solar panel. „
A clockwork radio was a gadget that I had fancied for a while, but which had always cost more than I'd wanted to spend. When I saw the www.halfpriceorless.com offer (£22) I went for it. I've had it for a couple of weeks now. Its big and chunky. The winding mechanism feels a bit agricultural. There is a quiet humming sound from it most of the time. Every once in a while there is a louder squeak from it. Sometimes it also gets stuck and switches itself off. If you touch the cranking handle on the back, it carries on playing. The quality of the reception is fine, although it is pretty basic - just with FM and AM (ie no LW for radio 4 cricket commentary). The design is an unusual mixture of the iMac-like clear blue plastic case, which lets you see the spring and gears spin around, together with a cheapo AM/FM slider switch.
It’s no joke. No batteries. No power lead. Ever. ~ THE HISTORY ~ The concept of a clockwork radio” first came into the public consciousness in the mid-nineties when the inventor Trevor Baylis was featured on the BBC programme ‘Tomorrows World’. Trevor’s invention had been inspired by a TV documentary about attempts to halt the spread of Aids in Africa. Radio was an obvious way of educating and informing people, but the lack of availability of batteries meant that millions of people had no access to vital information. Batteries were expensive, and could even cost as much as the equivalent of a weeks food. The clockwork radio invention was much more than a novel energy saving idea, it was a tool for empowerment on a massive scale. To date, over two million radios have been produced, many of which are assisting people in some of the worlds poorest developing countries. Anyone who remembers this edition of Tomorrows World or the subsequent documentary that was made about Trevor Baylis will have been immediately endeared to this remarkable man and his up-hill struggle to convince manufacturers that he had come up with a viable idea. Fortunately, the Tomorrows World feature provided the break that he needed and he secured the necessary backing to turn the clockwork radio from prototype to reality. ~ HOW IT WORKS ~ The technology is simple, but inspired. The user winds up the unit by turning a crank handle at the back of the radio. This is linked to a spring that is made from the same material that is used in car seat belt recoil mechanisms. The mechanical energy from the winding motion is converted into a reservoir of potential energy that is held in the coiled spring. As the spring unwinds it turns a shaft that is connected to a gear system and a small electrical generator (essentially a small motor in reverse) powers the radio. The gearbox has a ratio of 1:1000 which converts
the slow turning speed of the shaft into the high rotational speed needed to power the generator. In all other aspects the radio is just a conventional one. ~ PRODUCT DETAILS ~ My radio is the Freeplay FPR2S. This is the older type model which currently retails at about £50. They come in a choice of clear red, clear blue, clear green, clear or matt grey. The clear ones are great as you can see the mechanism in action! The units themselves are chunky and robust and are very smart looking. They measure about 30 cm long, 20 cm wide and 20 cm tall. It takes about 50 winds to fully ‘charge’ the system which will then play for about an hour. (The newer model S360 is much more advanced and has a 15 hour playing time!) Although there is a moderate resistance in the crank handle it is far from hard work and it takes less than a minute for the full 50 winds. There is a safety system built in that prevents over-winding. The radio has a small solar panel on the top of the unit which is sufficient to fully power the radio in direct sunlight. If the crank handle is wound up, the radio will automatically play off solar power and then switch to mechanical power if the light levels drop. If you are planning some lazy days in the garden this summer these radios are perfect! The controls are simple – tuning and volume. The reception is crisp and clear and the maximum volume is very impressive! ~ PRODUCT RANGE ~ As well as clockwork radios, clockwork torches are also available from Freeplay. These are excellent and very handy in case of emergency. They even have a power out function so you can wind up the torch and use it to power other AA battery powered products. More information about these products can be found at the Freeplay website – http://www/freeplay.net ~ FINAL THOUGHTS ~ As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, the concept of the cl
ockwork radio was born from a very determined mans desire to help his fellow man. His invention provides lessons for us all about the impact of our dependence on fossil-fuel derived energy, and the effect that energy use has on inequality, poverty and of course the environment. If this type of product in some small way starts to change our lifestyle patterns and helps people in the industrialised west to become more aware of energy use and its consequences it will be a success indeed.
Before I say how good or not so good this product let me give you some history as to why I wanted one these. I also was the person to request this product be added. So you can all blame me. I have wanted one of these wind up radios since they first came out as I thought that they where really cool. I did not like the clear see through ones but the blue and green ones looked cool (I used that word twice in one paragraph cool, cool, cool, cool. stop it now you are not a teenager any more. Don't I know it)? When I say the price tag I thought I don't think so. They where about £69. And all they had was the radio in them. So I held off as I already have a stereo at home. Recently I have become more concerned about saving money and being more kind to the environment. I still wanted one but still balked at the price £49. The other say while visiting my fav on-line shop halfpriceorless.com they have these little beauties at £18.99+£3.65 in P+P. Bargain I thought( they still have when I looked today). Even if I did not buy anything else I was quid's in. As in the local gadget shop they are selling these for £39.99. (I got something right for once. Normally I buy something then find it cheaper elsewhere) I did not have a choice in colour but they can be in see through clear, blue and green. I got the blue. It is weird to see the innards of this radio. It is really easy to use. You just wind it up and the turn it on and then it plays until it has used all the winds. Unless you are outside and in the sun. As the radio has a solar panel on the back. And it will play away to itself with the right amount of sunlight. It is not a very small radio like the new freeplay ones. But it has nice sturdy feel to it. It has supposed to have be tested in blazing sun in Africa and the winter in Canadian. And it is suppose to be shatter proof. But I am not going to drop it to find out It can be difficult to get pass the
whirring noise as the spring unwinds. But after awhile you take no notice. It is great for taking out in the garden. We use ours in the kitchen when we prepare tea. So that we don't have to have stereo in the living room turned up really loud. And when we have a bath. Also as the summer is coming we will use it out in the garden. But not loud enough to annoy our neighbours. The other features that the radio has is you can plug in headphones and in to the mains. And you should not be able to over wind the radio as it has feature to stop you. I never wind it up more than 50 turns. 52 turns is a full wind should last about an hour. So I hope not to find out if the wind stop works or not. The freeplay web site is very good. After reading it I felt really bad as they have donated about 7,000 freeplay radios to people in need in Africa. So I felt guilty at not having paid full price as I can only assume that part of the money you pay goes towards the freeplay foundation. Worth the money I think so. As no more batteries. If you listen to the radio a lot in places that don't have radios in them. It is well worth the money.