It’s not even officially summer yet and we’ve already been in a fairly constant battle with thunderstorms. Just in the past week Arkansas, Oklahoma and Ohio were hit with severe weather including flooding.
And, just days ago, right here in metro St. Louis, a letter carrier was struck and killed by lightning. So, severe weather season is already well under way.
I used to have a little battery-operated television that came in pretty handy during the many weather-related (and some not) power outages we seem to have around here. Now that TV has gone HD though, it’s essentially worthless. And, unless you have a smartphone with Web access there aren’t many ways to tell what’s going on when severe weather strikes and the lights go out.
Few things can be more frustrating when you’ve successfully located a flashlight or radio in the dark only to find the batteries dead. We’ve had very good luck with hand-crank flashlights. So, I decided to invest in a hand-crank radio, too. I chose the American Red Cross MICROLINK FR160 by the Eton Corporation.
I was immediately shocked by its size: it’s very small, barely filling up my hand. But don’t be fooled by its size. While it was DOA out of the package, a few handcranks later and both the radio and the flashlight came to life.
The hand crank tucks conveniently into the back of the radio, an antenna folds across the top and the light is housed in one side of the radio which features not only AM/FM but also NOAA Weather band.
While 90 seconds of cranking can get you 30-40 minutes of low-volume radio play, you can also let it charge by its solar panel. Just 8-10 hours of daylight yields three to five hours of run time. This option makes it a particularly handy item to take camping, to the beach or on a picnic. And, it can be VERY convenient, if you find an evening power outage lapsing into the next day.
Using a USB cord for your cell phone, you can also use it to crank some air time. (Caveat: DO NOT use this on an iPhone. I’d say don't use it on a smartphone AT ALL. You risk damage.) This is the weakest feature of this unit by far. You need to crank 10-15 minutes to get a single minute just on a featureless phone and if you tried to use it on a smartphone, you'd likely fry the phone! Hopefully, if you’re in this kind of an emergency situation, there’s a much easier way to call for help!
Overall, this is a good product to have. It’s small and convenient to take on the go and easy to stow away when you don’t need it. Some cursory cranking can get you both light and radio broadcasts – without batteries. The solar option is a big plus, too, for longer term use.
At $30 (available online at Home Depot, REI, others) it costs enough that you will want to get some use out of it. But, it's inexpensive enough that when you do need it, you'll consider it money well spent.