A wind up radio is an excellent gadget to have on-hand when you’re nowhere near a power socket. For avid hikers and camping enthusiasts, wind up, or clockwork radios are a must-have piece of equipment.
But these convenient tools didn’t start off as a solution for getting music on-the-go. The inventor of wind up radio didn’t have anglers and gardeners in mind as the people who rely most on muscle-powered energy.
Instead, he was looking for a way to change the world, by making sure that even people in impoverished countries could get the information and education they needed through radio.
If you’ve ever been enamored by the simple but effective function of a wind up radio, then you might have asked yourself, where does this technology come from, and how did it begin?
Today, wind up radios come with torches and alarm clocks built-in, and some even give you the power you need to charge up your mobile phone. The wind up radio showed us that it was possible to generate power without batteries or access to the grid.
In doing so, it changed the future of radio technology forever.
Here’s everything you need to know about wind up radio.
What is a wind up radio?
Let’s start with the basics, what is a wind up radio? Most clockwork radios are compact, easy-to-use devices that don’t need an outlet or batteries to play music.
All you need to do to tune into the news or a music channel is turn the crank on the side for a few minutes, and you can play local broadcasting for anywhere up to an hour.
A crank radio or wind up radio works using the same technology as any hand-powered generator. You might have seen similar solutions used for old-fashioned players in the past.
Today, innovative companies have even begun to use crank technology to give survivalist tools that they can use to charge their mobile phones (albeit for a short period of time).
How does a wind up radio work?
So, how does the wind up radio work? Like any electrical appliance, a radio requires an electrical charge to function.
This electrical charge needs to be moving consistently through the radio so that it can process the signals sent by broadcasting stations into music and news that you can hear.
While most conventional radios will draw on batteries or grid electricity for power, wind up radios take a different approach. In a wind up radio, there’s a magnet and coil of conductive wire that’s attached to the winding mechanism.
As the coil of the wire wraps around the magnet and spins it, a current of electricity is generated within a fixed magnetic field.
The science is based on Faraday’s Law of Induction, which describes the basic operation of electromagnetism in creating electricity. The theory suggests that a magnetic field can be used to induce a flow of electricity.
The power generated by the hand-powered generator can then move through the various components of your wind up radio, allowing it to pick up signals and transmit sound.
Outside of avid hikers and camping enthusiasts, you might think that there’s not a lot of call for wind up radio in today’s digital environment.
However, if you look towards fields where wind turbines are constantly churning to deliver electricity to the grid, you’ll see the very same science in motion.
Something as simple as a hand-turned crank has actually helped us to take advantage of one of the best sources of sustainable energy.
Why did Trevor Baylis invent the wind up radio?
Now you know what a windup radio is and how it works, let’s look at who invented wind up radio in the first place.
Hand-powered generators, like the ones used in battery-less radios, have been around since the early 1960s. Back then, these devices were primarily used for military applications, to help people on the front-line communicate.
In 1831, Michael Faraday discovered that it was possible to collect the power generated by a hand crank using conductive wire and a magnetic field. Faraday had already spent years working with magnets before he discovered the principle of electromagnetic induction.
Eventually, Michael Faraday designed the first electromagnetic generator and proved that the electricity created by a magnet, and the electricity from a battery are the same. Faraday laid the groundwork for the inventor of wind up radio to step in – Trevor Baylis.
In an interview, Baylis said that he didn’t design the wind up radio to do “good things,” he just wanted to show off. However, his invention led to incredible outcomes either way.
As the official wind up radio inventor, Trevor Baylis accomplished many amazing things in his life. He swam for Great Britain when he was 15 and worked as a physical trainer with the British Army.
He even spent some time as part of the Berlin Circus.
In 1991, however, Baylis changed history by inventing the first wind-up radio, a prolific creation which launched a world of new sustainable tools for the future.
According to Baylis, the idea for the wind up radio came to him when he was watching a documentary about the spread of the AIDS virus in Africa.
He found out that most of Africa didn’t have access to electricity, and they couldn’t get the information they needed to look after their health.
The only way that the residents of Africa could get the education that they needed was through radio, so Baylis started experimenting.
He modeled his initial version of the windup radio after an antique photograph and eventually came up with the design for the BayGen Freeplay Radio.
The device won Baylis the awards of Best Product and Best Design from the BBC in 1996. Spin-offs from the creation included shoes that generated electricity when walking and a wind-up torch.
Baylis was more than just the inventor of the wind-up radio. He also created various gizmos and gadgets over the years, including his “orange aids.” These were devices intended to make life easier for people who had suffered life-changing industries as a result of stunt injuries.
He found that many of his friends from the stunt industry ended up with broken necks and could no longer use some of their limbs.
Baylis ended up creating countless devices, including bottle-openers, that you could operate with one hand. Baylis noted that he only changed everyday items a little, but he saw the items doing a lot of good for the people who needed them most.
What are the benefits of a wind up radio?
It’s easy to look at something like a wind up radio and dismiss it as either an old-fashioned or niche product. But it’s actually a symbol of something much more significant.
If you visit any rural parts of Africa, the wind up radio isn’t just a crucial component of a home; it’s also a major status symbol for many communities.
Even in places where a community television set might be available, there will always be people in the crowd clutching their wind up radios.
In places where electricity is scarce, the radio remains to be a vital source of information. Baylis knew this before things like the wind-up radio were a reality. It was his invention that allowed for a transformation in sustainable product design.
Without Baylis, we may never have created the technology that’s so crucial to the lives of countless people today.
Years after Baylis’ introduced his invention; the wind-up radio has been met with both praise and scrutiny. Some people critcised his product for being too chunky or robust.
The Baygen Radio, however, was never intended for the same purpose as the radios used in homes in the Western world. The Freeplay Radio needed to be as durable as possible so that it could be carried and shared through communities for years.
Embodying the pivotal role of the inventor, Baylis introduced the world to a new solution to a problem that remains consistent in today’s world. The wind up and clockwork radios that we have today have come a long way since the initial Baylis prototypes.
Experiments with sustainable design have everything from solar-powered technology to rechargeable batteries. However, it was Baylis that understood the potential of durable, flexible product design before anyone else.
When Trevor Baylis created a radio that didn’t need electrical power from the grid, or batteries to operate, he helped to fight back against the spread of AIDs and showed other companies that they could produce products differently.
The Freeplay Radio was a revolution for both third-world countries and other parts of the world where electricity isn’t always freely available. Today, the clockwork radio is still a lifeline for people in developing countries all around the world.
This technology doesn’t just have benefits to offer in developing countries either. Wind up radio can provide crucial information in locations throughout the world when the power goes off.
It offers a source of communication and entertainment for people who like to go outside and get back to nature, by fishing somewhere remote, or climbing up mountains.
In a way, Baylis introduced us to what it was like to have the first real “wireless” radio, that didn’t rely on an endless supply of batteries.
How the wind up radio evolved: Who needs batteries?
The original wireless radio were the portable, battery-operated devices that people used to carry around with them like MP3 players. They were the smartphones of their day, providing instant access to information more reliably than any fax or newspaper.
However, batteries were expensive, unreliable, and dangerous for the environment. Scientists quickly began to explore ways that we might be able to power our devices without relying on batteries at all.
The quest for battery-less radios started in 1926 in the United States and in 1927 in Europe.
To begin with, crystal radio receivers were a kind of battery-less radio. They could capture radio signals using antennas, but they needed to be outside and within a short distance from the transmitting tech.
Thermoelectricity was another consideration in parts of the Soviet Union. Radio receivers used bi-metal rods which were inserted into fireplaces to generate energy.
Following the second world war, parts of Moscow began to experiment with the idea of kerosene radios for rural areas. These receivers were powered by kerosene lamps which heated thermocouples inside of the machine.
Although these tools weren’t as reliable as they could be, and they were very dangerous to use.
In Australia, inventors experimented with foot-operated pedal radios, not long before Baylis brought his wind up communication to the market. Since then, we’ve seen the wind-up radio evolve.
Today, many of these devices come with rechargeable batteries included and solar panels, so that people in rural areas can collect the energy they need to listen to the radio over an extended period.
While the wind-up radio made the concept of a battery-less communication more accessible, it wasn’t the ultimate solution for some people in search of sustainably powered devices.
Many groups looking for new ways to deliver radio technology to people in Africa and other countries off the grid said that wireless wind-up radios were too expensive for people in poor parts of the world.
The wind-up radio, powered by its internal clockwork generator offered 40 minutes of information or entertainment to listeners, after a few minutes of cranking.
It was very expensive to buy this machine outright at first – particularly for people in impoverished countries.
Although Baylis worked with charitable organisations to deliver his design to people around the world, many argued that solar power was a more affordable solution to the ongoing problem of powering a radio without batteries.
Solar power offers a consistent source of energy in locations all around the world. What’re more, manufacturers can create solar radios for a low price, often using offcuts from the commercial and residential solar panels created for bigger projects.
While these machines are cost-effective, solar radios also have a few issues of their own. For instance, without constant exposure to the sun, they need a battery where they can store the electricity gathered through the day.
Some manufacturers have begun to respond to that problem, by combining solar-powered radios with rechargeable batteries, and a hand-crank to generate additional power.
The future of wind up radio
Trevor Baylis may be the inventor of wind up radio, but he didn’t invent the notion of creating electricity through cranking or clockwork. Like many inventors, he learned from the innovations that came before him and took inspiration from the wind-up record player.
Similarly, countless inventors have learned from Baylis’s invention and continued to build on it with their own innovation. Now, crank technology is used for everything from powering flashlights to charging phones.
Although the original clockwork technology has evolved, it was still Baylis that triggered the search for new, renewable sources of energy that weren’t too expensive or difficult to access.
Few crank radios today are available with nothing but a wind-up mechanism to power them. Most come with solar panels included too, as well as other options designed to give people more control over how they gather and source electricity.
The wind-up radio, however, is still a common and well-loved product throughout the world. It’s a valuable part of any emergency preparedness or camping kit, and a crucial source of information in impoverished and developing countries.
Amazing wind up radio facts: FAQ
Q: Where did wind-up devices come from?
A: Mechanical wind-up clocks and other devices have existed for hundreds of years. Over the last century, direct wind-up power has helped to produce energy for everything from cars, to radios.
Q: Who invented the wind up radio?
A: Trevor Baylis was the man who saw the benefits of creating a wind up radio to help third world countries in 1991. He wanted to provide countries with the information they needed to prevent the spread of AIDS.
The wind-up radio allowed communities to share information and education.
Q: What was the first wind up radio brand?
A: Trevor Baylis created the Freeplay Energy Radio brand, which sold more than 3 million units since it started. Hundreds of thousands of these radios have gone to the developing world through charitable and government agencies.
Q: Does the Freeplay brand sell anything else?
A: The Freeplay energy range evolved over the years to include things like short-wave radios, torches, and more. They also incorporate solar power today.
Q: Which companies produce wind up radios today?
A: There are many different brands that provide wind up radios for the modern market. Sony and Phillips entered the clockwork market in recent years, and Motorola even collaborated with the original Freeplay brand to create a wind-up phone charger.
For 45 seconds of winding, users can get 5 minutes of talk time on a Motorola Phone.
Q: How does a wind up radio work?
A: A wind up radio relies on the spinning of rotors within an electromagnetic field to generate electricity. The crank, powered by hand motion, causes a magnet to turn within a field to send electricity into the various crucial components of the radio.
Radio Fidelity: For the love of radio.