Crank Radios

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Currently there are a number of wind-up crank radios available from a handful of manufacturers. These radios are usually marketed as "emergency" radios rather than alternative powered radios. These radios are popular in hurricane/tornado prone areas because they can be stored away for long periods without the user having to worry about keeping fresh batteries in them. Most of these radios include NOAA weather reception which tends to be more reliable/informative during weather related disasters.

The early models on the market had a spiral spring-steel "clock spring" that you would wind up and in turn would power a generator/alternator, thus generating your power dynamically. A common example of a spring-wound radio is the Freeplay 360. Despite being out of production for quite some time, the Freeplay 360 has a higher auction value than what it originally sold for.

The newer models have you crank an alternator to charge batteries and/or power the radio. The only drawback to this design is the radio runtime can be severely limited when the batteries have problems holding a charge. In fact many people get shipped older inventory with bad batteries right out of the box ! Due to this issue I prefer a radio with replaceable batteries and/or an alternator big enough to directly power the radio without a battery present. Its a shame some of these radios come with bad batteries. One mod I recommend is installing high quality Low Self Discharge NiMH batteries.

I have spent a good amount of time dealing with these radios and (big surprise here) found out most of them are junk. Here is a quick rundown:


Kaito (all models)

Bad bad bad. Cheap manufacture and falls apart.


Midland makes a variety of models (AM/FM, AM/FM/NOAA, and FRS/GMRS). The quality can best be described as average to below average.

C Crane

They make the "Observer" and "Solar Observer" radios. These are average quality.

Eton (most models)

Not very durable but may last if you are careful with it.

Eton FR150 / FR160 / Ambient Weather WR-088 / Freeplay Companion / SolaDyne

These are all basically the same radio. The solar panel has poor performance and the cranks are known to break under heavy use. Otherwise its not bad for a $30 radio. This particular model is very popular and many people are perfectly happy with it. I would recommend this radio if you are on a tight budget, just remember to be careful with the crank !

Sangean MMR-77

Good radio but is only AM/FM (no NOAA weather radio). Can run off 2 internal AAA NiMH or 2 replaceable AA cells. Its built-in light is incandescent and draws a lot of current (why didn't they use a LED?). The crank will charge the internal batteries but not the replaceable ones. I was able to modify mine by replacing the incandescent light with a 5mm LED and rewired the battery circuit such that the crank will charge the replaceable batteries (I put in a pair of Eneloop low self-discharge AA's) After these mods I'm quite happy with the product. The alternator is brushless.

Freeplay Eyemax WB 2009

By far the best of them all. Super beefy crank/alternator and the solar cell actually performs. More rugged/durable construction compared to the others. Has 3 internal 600mAH AAA NiMH cells. Costs a little more ($45) but well worth it. As with the Sangean, the alternator is brushless. If you look at the photos to the right you'll see the alternator is much bigger than the Sangean. The brushless alternator is a rotor/stator design where magnets attached to a drum rotate around set of fixed coils. It looks similar to a Harley-Davidson motorcycle alternator but on a smaller scale.
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