Trevor Baylis

The original wind up radio
Designer Trevor Baylis
Dates 1993


Inventor Trevor Baylis observed that in many parts of Africa radio was the only means of communication, however the lack of an electrical grid and the in-accessibility of batteries made it difficult for ordinary people to tune in.

The original Wind up radio was made using a hand brace an electric motor and a small radio, it needed to be wound for 2 minutes to give 14 minutes play time.

The radio is powered by a clockwork wind up mechanism, which drives an internal generator using a constant velocity. A spring stores the energy and as it unwinds the radio plays.

The new compact wind up radio

Despite Trevor’s initial difficulty in finding a manufacturer, in 1995 The Liberty Group, Staines and Stear provided funding and helped to set up Baygen Power industries in Cape Town and production began. Then in June 1996 the freeplay radio was awarded the BBC Design Award for Best Product and Best Design.

The Freeplay radio is now available in a myriad of colours and designs; it has become smaller and more portable, many with additional features including a touch and solar panel. But perhaps the greatest advance is that in exchange for a 30-second wind you receive around an hours play time.

A wind up radio will set you back by around £100 for an all singing all dancing Digital model or as little as £20 for an Analogue version with FM and AM.

A Personal View

wind up radio in Rwanda

It’s not often that you can buy something outright - with no further costs tuning in does not add to the electricity bill and there are no batteries to purchase and ultimately dispose of.

In an age where sustainability is everything here is an object that is ‘Carbon Neutral’.

All it requires is a little bit of energy expenditure on the part its owner and it will provide you with hours of entertainment whilst gardening, on the beach, camping ……

In Africa the wind up radio comes into its own becoming a vital communication tool, especially in war zones. It can also be used to broadcast educational information, medical advice and simple but oh so necessary joy.


wind up laptops

Wind up technology is now being applied in a number of interesting directions from every day objects such as torches and phone chargers, to Laptops developed to bring information technology to communities with no electricity and even an ultrasound monitor that is powered using a hand crank and a solar panel.

Perhaps however, a more worrying trend is highlighted in a recent BBC report describing how wind up radios, which will automatically tune in to American Military information broadcasts, are being freely distributed in Afghanistan to win ‘hearts and minds’ – so much for freedom of information.

Links - The inventor of the wind up radio - distribution of wind up radios in Rwanda - articals on wind up laptops and wind up radios in Afghanistan

The wind up radio in Afghanistan

Author: Brigi Harris Wednesday 14th: March 2007