Once upon a time, the world’s best radios were designed and built in the United States. But times have changed, and today Asian manufacturers dominate the consumer radio market.
However, this doesn’t mean America is out of the race. For instance, in the northern California town of Fortuna (population 10,000), stands a rustic two-story farmhouse that’s home to the C. Crane Company. For 26 years, it has been an innovative family-owned designer and marketer of leading-edge AM radios and accessories for talk radio fans.
“Talk radio is the No. 1 format in the U.S., and has been for years,” said Bob Crane, the company’s president and owner. “However, most radios are designed to reproduce music, rather than voice. In contrast, our products emphasis accurate, full-bodied voice quality; especially on AM.”
Today, C. Crane’s flagship product is the AM/FM/TV/Weather Alert CCRadioplus. Retailing for $159.95, C. Crane Co. says this radio, designed by chief engineer Chris Justice in cooperation with Sangean, is “the best AM radio available.”
Audacious, yes. The claim is backed by numerous online testimonials, plus a 30-day money-back guarantee.
“I talked about this wonderful radio on my own radio show 10 days ago,” said Tim Carter, broadcaster and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist of “Ask The Builder.”
“Within moments I received three phone calls from listeners who own a CCRadioplus. They sang its praises louder than me. The bottom line is this: If you want an awesome portable radio that has unparalleled reception, then you should consider the CCRadioplus.”
“A hands-on evaluation confirms that the CCRadio lives up to its promise,” wrote Stephen A. Booth, in the January 1999 edition of Popular Science magazine. “It is the best AM radio I’ve ever had the pleasure of trying,” said MSNBC’s Gary Krakow.
Okay: so the CCRadioplus is a great AM radio. But still, why would anybody bother to make a great AM radio these days? Especially when the GE Super III, the legendary AM long-distance tuning receiver, is also available – at www.ccrane.com – for $64.95?
The answer is that Bob Crane personally loves talk radio.
“You can actually get an education just by listening to some of the shows,” he said. “I listen to this format all the time.”
However, when Crane moved from Silicon Valley, where he worked as a designer, to Fortuna in 1983, “I couldn’t get any AM radio stations.”
Determined to get talk radio one way or another, Crane eventually tracked down the Select-A-Tenna (www.selectantenna.com). A strange-looking device resembling a standing plastic car tire with a tuning knob in its center, the Select-A-Tenna passively adds up to +30 dB signal gain when placed close to a radio’s internal AM ferrite antenna.
Bob Crane liked the Select-A-Tenna and started to sell them. Then he added radios – quality radios only, please. Today C. Crane Co. – the C. salutes the middle initials of both Bob and his wife, Susan – is a respected radio designer and retailer.
In the case of the CCRadioplus, he said, “We approached Sangean in 1988 with plans for a top-end AM receiver. However, we didn’t have the clout of financing to convince them to do it. Then, when they let us know they were building their own AM receiver a few months later, we replied, ‘What’s the point of competing, when we can work together?’ And that’s what happened.”
Since then, C. Crane has developed other AM products. A case in point is the Justice AM Antenna. Also designed by Chris Justice, the $99.95 Justice is meant to be the “best compact AM antenna available.”
The patent-pending Justice Antenna’s secret is its use of twin coil on its ferrite bar antennas.
“A conventional ferrite bar antenna naturally has north and south magnetic poles,” Crane said. “Chris realized that if you put a second coil on the ferrite bar and combine the signals electronically, you can boost the signal 6 dB.”
So does the Justice AM Antenna perform as billed? Yes, says the fan-run Web site Philly Talk Radio Online.
“The Justice antenna is an amazing unit,” PTRO says. “C. Crane has come up with some new technology here and they have every right to be proud of it.”
In addition, the Justice antenna has been adopted by many cable TV operators, who have connected it to their EAS radio receivers.
“Our product was initially recommended by an EAS radio manufacturer to a cable TV operator,” said Justice. “Since then, we’ve been supplying these antennas to cable TV operators nationwide.”
After 26 years in radio design, Bob Crane’s enthusiasm shows no sigh of waning.
“I love radio, pure and simple,” he said. “It’s the only addiction I know of without a treatment center. Until they come up with one, I guess I’ll keep at it.
“Besides, I like making products for people who appreciate them. The old slogan about ‘making life better with technology?’ That’s what we’re all about.”
As for the future, Bob Crane is monitoring IBOC’s progress; the company’s Web site talks extensively about the digital radio technology, and Crane himself wrote to the National Radio Systems Committee in early 2002 with his opinions about it.
“I recommend that the initial rollout tests be watched closely by station owners and the public,” Crane said. “This is a real big change, and I believe it will affect broadcast communications for ever more.”
This said, Bob Crane is prepared to face the IBOC challenge; just as he faced the challenges of distant analog AM reception years ago.
“If and when the IBOC format is consummated, we will have some real technological advances for receivers that use the system,” he said. “We will remain a radio performance leader, whatever happens.”