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
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
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 Etón 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 Etón 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 1¾"
and weighs just under 1¼ lbs.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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6 Oct 2005, last update
28 Nov 2012
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.