Rekindling the romance of radio


Ralph Graves

Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.

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One of the perks here at Crutchfield is that I sometimes get to play with the gear. I tried out the new Etón FR250 emergency radio recently, and when I did something unusual happened.

The FR250's a true emergency radio. It has a hand-cranked dynamo to power it when the electricity goes out, as well as a built-in flashlight, flashing red LED and emergency siren. I had a good time putting the FR250 through its paces -- but I found it also did something else. It helped me rediscover the romance of radio.

I've always been a fan of broadcast radio, but my listening time has decreased dramatically over the past few years. My MP3 player has gradually edged out radio as my primary source of audio entertainment.

The FR250 receives shortwave signals in addition to AM and FM. As I turned the dial through the shortwave bands, I experienced once again what drew me to radio in the first place: the far-off call of the unknown.

When I was growing up in the Washington, DC, area, it was a big deal to listen to WOWO, a 50,000-watt Top 40 AM station from Fort Wayne, Indiana, at night. The programming wasn't that different from what my local stations were playing -- yet somehow it seemed much more exotic and appealing coming from so far away.

That's how I felt as I slowly turned the tuning knob of the Etón radio. Voices (often not speaking English) drifted in and out through the static as I explored the shortwave bands. Sometimes I heard music -- but seldom was it something familiar. Unusual rhythms and instrumental combinations coming through in glorious low-fi sound made for some compelling listening.

I was supposed to just try out a new product -- I ended up catching the radio bug again!