Wind-Up vs. Crank vs. Emergency Radio: Differences Answered

With natural disasters increasing in prevalence, now is a prudent time to consider a radio for your home.

Wind-up, crank, and emergency radios can keep you connected to the world in severe weather, terrorist attacks, and other emergencies, but which is suitable for you? How are they different?

Wind-up, crank, and emergency radios operate using rotatable apparatuses to generate power, but emergency radios can also run on solar power, electricity, or backup batteries. These radios are reliable for situations where you don’t have power and need to stay current on the news in your area.

This guide will investigate these three types of radio, including how each works, which you should select, and when.

What Is a Wind-Up Radio?

White wind-up radio up-close with a black plastic crank
Wind-up radios use a crank or hand mechanism to turn them, powering the radio.

First, let’s look at wind-up radios.

These portable, compact radios are named because of how they operate. They feature a hand mechanism that you rotate or wind to generate power for the radio.

Here’s more background on how they work.

Wind-up radios contain a copper wire, coil, and magnet within the casing. When you turn the crank, those three items generate an electromagnetic charge.

The electricity travels through the wire, accumulating the charge as you crank the radio.

Using a wind-up radio is Faraday’s Law of Induction in action.

The Law of Induction anticipates the behavior of an electric circuit and magnetic field and how they will generate an electromotive force or EMF.

After sufficiently winding up the radio, it can transmit and receive audio signals, working the same way any electric radio does.

How long must you turn the radio crank for the radio to work? At least several minutes, but it can vary by model.

The amount of listening time you get also depends on the model but should be upwards of an hour.

What Is a Crank Radio?

Crank and wind-up radios work similarly. Both feature a rotatable apparatus or crank for turning to power the radio.

A crank radio uses an onboard battery. Turning the crank generates power to the battery.

The battery will continue to transmit and receive radio signals until it runs out of juice.

Then, you can crank it again to continue receiving news updates during a weather event or another type of emergency.

Crank radio airplay duration should be at least an hour, like wind-up radios.

However, read the specs for the radio model you select to double-check.

So, how does power get to the battery when you crank it? Good question!

A crank radio features metal coils and a magnet. The coils move when you turn the crank, generating an electrical current.

Crank radios are small, portable, and convenient.

You must only turn the crank for a minute or two before you will start hearing the radio come through.

What Is an Emergency Radio?

A silver emergency radio, the best weather radio, on a black rubber floor
Emergency radios, such as weather radios, broadcast emergency frequencies for awareness and safety in a serious event.

That brings us to the third type of radio we’ll look at today: emergency radios.

An emergency radio is a receiver that can be used with but isn’t reliant on electricity. That makes these radios functional in emergencies, as the name implies.

So, how do emergency radios work? They have multiple power modes in one, varying the options across designs.

At the very least, they can use four modes of power.

Hand Cranking

All three of these radios share hand-cranking capabilities in common. An emergency radio will often include a crank to power the radio.

This function works the same as a wind-up or crank radio. Turning the crank generates power to the internal components.

Solar Energy

Another way of listening to emergency radio is through solar power.

These radios will have small solar panels installed on the exterior casing. By putting the radio in the sun, it will generate power and begin playing news alerts and broadcasts.

The benefits of using solar energy are saving on the battery and relying on a green, renewable resource.

However, if you’re stuck in the dark due to a power outage or a bad storm, the solar energy feature won’t work.

That’s why emergency radios have several power options to choose between.

Battery Power

The radio will use AA or AAA batteries to provide electricity to the radio so it can keep working if other power methods fail, such as solar power, electricity, and/or the hand crank.


Emergency radios also work the same way as any consumer radio.

Some will include plugs that slot into an outlet, and others can connect via USB to recharge the battery.

In either case, the radio uses electricity to work. It will continue operating as long as there’s a power source available.

Which Is the Best Radio to Have in a Power Outage?

Emergency radios are the best type to have in a power outage.

Turning a wind-up or crank radio in the dark is difficult. You could always hold a flashlight or candle in one hand and turn the radio with the other hand, but that’s unwieldy and inconvenient.

The best option would be to have someone else hold the flashlight while you turn the crank.

It’s much more expedient to use an emergency radio’s battery-powered or electrical resources to listen to the radio.

Many radios have a backlit display, so you won’t fumble around in the dark.

Can You Listen to AM/FM on Wind-Up or Emergency Radios?

All three types of radios can tune into AM or FM channels. This allows you to connect to emergency weather frequencies to understand what weather might impact your area.

Wrapping Up

Wind-up, crank, and emergency radios fundamentally differ but share many commonalities.

They’re all adept at using during emergencies, and they’re excellent choices for generating electricity without having power.

Ultimately, which radio is right depends on your preferences, but emergency radios are the most convenient of the three.

They have a hand crank feature but can also run on electricity, battery power, or solar energy, providing more versatility.

If you’re ready to buy your very own radio, here are our recommendations for the best crank and wind-up radios as well as emergency radios!

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