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Wind-Up Radio Powers Cellphones

If there is one attribute that separates broadcast engineers from other technocrats, it’s resourcefulness. Down in our core, we’re all MacGyvers.

(click thumbnail)Radio Shack now offers the AM/FM/SW Dynamo RadioIf there is one attribute that separates broadcast engineers from other technocrats, it’s resourcefulness. Down in our core, we’re all MacGyvers.

A personal “for instance.” Many years ago, an emergency repair call took me to a mountaintop site in the middle of a subzero night. In the course of making the repair I went to my car to listen to the station but made the disastrous mistake of leaving the ignition and lights on when I went back into the transmitter shed. Needless to say, when I returned hours later my battery output (at –30 degrees F) was insufficient to turn the car’s engine. Alone, I was on my own.

The facility was a simple one and the closest thing to 12 volts in the plant was a small 24-volt relay supply. I pieced together every shred of clip lead, speaker wire and other available parts and extended that 24 volts 50 feet to the car battery. To avoid frying the supply, I limited the current as the battery charged by creating a 10-watt resistor out of a ménage of 620-ohm, half-watt termination resistors I found in a bag under the driver’s seat.

I held the current to under 1 amp — my guide was the heat generated by the supply transformer and pass transistor — and it felt like an eternity before I could turn the engine over at dawn.

Power life

We all have stories like this, times we’ve faced challenges to keep going when everything else failed. One thing we’ve learned from crises like Hurricane Katrina is that things go a lot easier with advanced planning. Here’s a helpful tip.

In the past I’ve reviewed emergency radios with onboard generators such as the BayGen FreePlay Plus and Grundig FR-200. This type of radio deserves a place at your home and office for the rare occasion when things go bad for days at a time.

Radio Shack now offers the AM/FM/SW Dynamo Radio with Light, functionally similar to the Grundig FR-200 but with an important addition: the ability to charge your cell phone battery. In the package with this emergency crank radio (Model 20-238) is a cable with four adapters to couple the voltage from the radio into many popular contemporary models of cell phones. This allows you to use the dynamo to keep your cell phone running when all other power sources fail.

The selection of connections did not accommodate my trusty, ancient StarTAC. The connector on the radio is a USB; any cell that can mate to that is set.

I bought my radio on sale for $29.95. The sale models were gray. A Halston black version apparently was sexy enough to command the list price of $39.99, in line with that of the FR-200.

Otherwise the radio is similar to the FR-200. You might want to check out the original review of that model at; click on the Product Evaluation tab, follow the link to the archives and scroll down to 03-12-03.

Between fuel on site for the generator and 10 hours in the UPS system, most cell sites can stay on for at least a day and a half. Refueling extends their operation. Have at least one of these charger radios on hands and you’ll be able to keep all your cells running to match.