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So you've got no power.  That also means your televisions aren't working, and neither are your radios.  There you are, at a time when you most want to know what is happening, but unable to find out.

The Grundig (Eton brand in the US) emergency radio solves that problem.  When its other sources of power fail, you can still turn the handle to generate a charge to keep the radio operating.

Your efforts can also be used to recharge various other devices through its built in recharger, and to power a flashlight in its case too.

 
 
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Emergency Radio generates its own power

Here's a way to still get news and radio programming even when the power fails and your batteries run flat
 

The Grundig/Eton FR-250 Emergency Crank Radio can run off regular power, normal batteries, its own rechargeable batteries, and - if all else fails - you turn the handle to generate and store some power then listen to the radio that way.

With AM, FM, and short wave bands, this is a great radio for any type of disaster situation, as well as for regular use too.

 

 

Just ask Hurricane Katrina survivors, or the many other people who've had to endure an extended power outage - even in this most civilized world we enjoy, basic services such as electricity can sometimes fail.

If you're camping in the woods away from AC electricity, you'll again be away from power sources.

Here's a clever radio that can use AC power when available, plus, when away from mains power, it has built in rechargeable batteries, normal (single use) batteries for if/when the rechargeable batteries are used up, and a hand crank to manually recharge its rechargeable batteries.  Four different power sources!

You can also use this radio to recharge your cell phone.

The radio even has a built in flashlight, and a rather gimmicky emergency siren, too!

What You Get

The FR-250 radio is branded as an Etn radio in the United States, but is actually manufactured by the German company Grundig, and sold as Grundig in other countries.  What a remarkably affected name Etn is, whereas Grundig is a well known and well respected name.  The marketeers have made a puzzling choice in discarding the established brand for this new name and we'll continue to refer to it as Grundig.

Inside the box is the radio itself, a set of NiMH rechargeable batteries, a set of adapters to use when charging your cell phone, a manual with 12 pages of English information, and a nylon protective carry case.

The radio is fairly small and lightweight.  It measures 6" x 6" x 1" and weighs just under 1 lbs.

It has a one year warranty (the company has a US office in Palo Alto) and they also offer phone and web support.  A test call to their phone support got me quickly through to a pleasant person with no nasty phone menus or long waits on hold, and my questions were answered helpfully and completely.

Not included is an AC adapter or regular batteries.  There's nothing special about the AC adapter it uses and you can buy one at Radio Shack or elsewhere for about $10 - you should take the radio with you when going to Radio Shack so you can check the charger plug correctly fits the radio's socket.  Or you can simply order one from Magellan's - they have a lovely one which works on all voltages around the world for $15.

The radio can optionally use three regular AA batteries as well as its other power sources, and you'd probably be well advised to keep some AA's in the radio 'just in case'.

The Grundig FR250 sells for $49.85 from Magellan's.

Using the Radio

The radio is simple to use.  You turn it on by moving the slide switch to your preferred power source, then choosing either the AM, FM, or SW band.

Tuning is by way of a knob on the side of the radio, and there's a smaller 'fine tuning' knob inset inside the main tuning knob.  This vernier type knob rotates more quickly, making it easier to get the radio exactly tuned to the center of a signal.

The radio has an analog tuning circuit and regular dial and pointer rather than digital tuning and digital frequency display.  As seems to be the case with most other analog tuner dials, the 2" dial display isn't very accurate - for example, an FM station at 98.1 MHz actually appears on the dial as if it were at about 99.2 MHz.

Surprising, it was much more accurate for showing AM stations, with stations all across the dial appearing almost exactly where they should on the scale.

The radio was very good at picking up weak stations, particularly in the AM band, at times doing as well or better than using the default settings on a professional grade radio receiver I also have.  This is of course important - if you're somewhere remote, or if local radio stations have also lost power, you want to have a radio than can pull in weak signals from further away stations.

The nature of radio wave propagation is such that FM radio signals are very much range limited, no matter what sort of radio receiver you're using, but AM (and shortwave) signals have much greater theoretical range, and better radio receivers can bring in many more stations than inferior ones.

The radio has seven shortwave bands spanning frequencies between 5.85 MHz and 15.75 MHz (the 16, 19, 22, 25, 31, 41 and 49 meter bands).  Shortwave radio reception is always a bit of an unknown, and while it can be great fun if you're an enthusiast, searching through the different bands for interesting stations, an average person wanting to use this radio variously for entertainment or (local) emergency news won't reliably find anything helpful.

The AM part of the radio uses a built in aerial.  This has some directional properties, and so when searching for weak signals, it is a good idea to first of all work your way through the dial with the radio in one position, and then to rotate the radio 90 and try again.  If you find a weak radio signal, then try rotating the radio up to 180 to see if you can get better signal.

The FM and SW (shortwave) parts of the radio use an external telescoping aerial.  There is no ability to add an external aerial, but in typical use, there'd be little need or opportunity to add an external aerial, so this is not an important omission.

It does make a big difference to extend the telescoping aerial, and moving it and the radio around a bit can further enhance the signal strength.  Be careful not to touch the aerial however, or else you'll reduce its effectiveness when searching for weak signals.

The small speaker gives acceptably good sound quality.  There is also a standard stereo headphone jack on the back, and if you're wanting to get maximum battery life, it would be a good idea to plug a high impedance and sensitive set of headphones into this plug and use the headphones (or earpiece) rather than regular speaker.

Note that although the jack is for stereo or mono headphones, the radio does not output stereo FM, just AM.

Light and Siren

There is a LED light on the front of the radio.  A switch allows you to choose between no light, a white light, or a flashing red light.

The white light has two bright LEDs and is similarly bright to our little Micro Light when powered by the NiMH rechargeable batteries, and appreciably brighter when powered by the higher voltage AA batteries.

The flashing red light, with a single red LED, is more a nuisance than anything else.

There is also an electronic siren that makes a rapid warble tone through the speaker if switched on.  This siren is loud enough to be annoying if you're right next to the radio, but way too quiet to be useful as any sort of long range alarm.

Perhaps if you were trapped in a burning or collapsed building with your radio beside you (as unlikely as this sounds!) then you could alternate between calling for help and turning the siren on.  Or perhaps if you were in danger of losing consciousness, you could turn the siren on to help searchers find you, but other than those rather limited applications, it seems to have little other good purpose.

Cell Phone Recharger

In a manner similar to the Sidewinder, the Eton Emergency Radio can also be used to recharge your cellphone.

Five cell phone adapters are included for modern Siemens, many Nokias, modern Motorola phones, many Samsung and LG phones, and most Sony Ericsson phones (identical adapters to the ones we offer with our emergency phone rechargers).  These come with an 18" connecting cord to run from the radio to the cell phone.

Note that you can only recharge your cell phone when the radio is either connected to AC or being powered by you cranking the generator handle.  The radio won't simply transfer power from the built in NiMH rechargeable batteries or from the three AA cells - the voltage from these two sources is not sufficiently high as to promote current transfer from the radio to the phone.

The concept of an emergency phone recharger that requires AC power is a bit counter-intuitive, although it could be helpful if you've lost the charger.  And if you're away from mains power, while the crank handle charging will work, we generally prefer our small Clipper Gear recharger that takes power from four AAA's and transfers that into your phone quickly and effortlessly.

However, if you find yourself with no more AAA batteries, there's no doubt that the Grundig's recharger will be extremely welcome.

Power Management Issues

The radio uses very little power to operate, and so can extract long life from either its Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries or from normal AA cells.  Eton/Grundig claim their rechargeable batteries will give about 6 - 8 hours of playing time from a full charge, and a set of AA cells will last about 35 hours.

Testing suggests the 6 - 8 hour life claimed by Grundig is very conservative.  I've had the radio running for seven hours on a partially charged set of batteries, and with the light on as well.

When the NiMH rechargeable batteries are flat, you can recharge them either using an AC adapter or by turning the crank handle.  To charge them via the crank generator, you spin the handle, in either direction, at about two turns per second, until you get sick of turning.  Grundig estimates that 90 secs to 2 minutes of cranking will store enough power for the radio to play 45 - 60 minutes, depending on the speed of your cranking and the volume level you're playing back at.

Testing confirmed this type of relationship between charging and playing back (ie about 30 minutes of playing per minute of cranking).   (1.15pm - with 45 secs)

Turning the crank uses an appreciable amount of energy, but isn't impossibly difficult and when one only needs to do this for a couple of minutes at a time it is no problem.

The amount of playing time is of course influenced by the volume level - the louder you play the radio, the shorter the radio life.  The light also uses up power, but not very much because it is created by high efficiency low power LEDs.

The NiMH batteries will need to occasionally be 'conditioned' so they don't develop a 'memory' effect caused by partial charging and discharging.  This is done by completely flattening the batteries, then fully recharging them, then flattening/recharging a second time.

NiMH batteries also slowly self-discharge, meaning that if you store the radio, after a month or two what were fully charged batteries to start with will be only half or quarter charged.  For this reason, we like to keep a set of AA batteries in our radio as well, so that any time, we can simply turn the radio on and know we'll immediately have good power without needing to do some cranking first.

The AA batteries are higher voltage than the rechargeable batteries (4.5V instead of 3.6V).  This has little effect on the radio receiver, but does make the light shine more brightly when turned on.

Both the light and siren intelligently choose the 'best' power supply, preferring the AA batteries to the NiMH batteries.

You probably should invest the few extra dollars needed to get an AC adapter for the radio.  Magellan's sell a lovely one which will work on all different voltages, all around the world, for $15.

Summary

The Grundig FR250 retails for $50 (or a few pennies less through Magellan's).  If you consider that for this price you're getting the radio, including the capabilities also of a Sidewinder recharger (value $25) and a Micro Light (value $5) then it is clear you're getting a lot for your $50.

The radio works well, and the ability to use it with four different power sources truly makes it totally flexible and useful for any type of scenario, with or without AC power and with or without fresh batteries.

Great to include in your at-home emergency kit, and useful also to take with you when traveling.  Recommended.

 

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Originally published 6 Oct 2005, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
 

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