Grundig FR-200 Deja Vu - New & Improved

By Ken Cook

Its been several years since Don wrote the original article about the Grundig FR-200 and some may wonder why I'd bother to write an addendum to that great article after so much time has passed. The answer is surprisingly simple.

I just got mine!

As I mention elsewhere on this site, those of us on a budget have to prioritize our purchases and sometimes, something we really want may have to wait a few years until other things we need even more are seen to. That being the case, I finally got around to picking up this great little radio and to make a long story short, Don didn't oversell it a bit. But then, I usually do pretty fair when I take his advice.

Among the various modifications Don suggested in his earlier article, was that of replacing the incandescent bulb in the emergency light with an LED of some sort and surprise of surprises, Grundig did it Note the telltale "yellow eye" in the picture. This is how you can tell at a glance whether you're purchasing a radio with the new LED rather than an old stock incandescent version.

The LED is a very blue "white" LED and for the flashlight afficionados out there, the output and tint is similar to but less powerful than the well known SMJLED. This modification alone will extend battery life whether you're running on non-rechargeable batteries or the dynamo charged Ni-cads. The life span of the LED should probably be pretty close to the working life span of the radio itself but in the event the radio outlasts the LED, a suitable replacement should be easily found at any of a number of online suppliers. Shown below for comparison is, (from left to right) A Mini-Maglight incandescent bulb, an SMJLED, and the LED found in the current Grundig radios.

I agree with Don this radio would benefit greatly by the addition of the NOAA weather alert system, and as long as we're wishing, I could wish for it to have Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) capability as well. But then again, that would almost certainly double the cost of the radio and one of the most attractive things about it is the low sticker price.

Initially, I was a little disappointed to find there was no back light on the tuner dial. I assumed this would require a secondary light source for tuning specific stations in during hours of darkness. However, an evening out on the front porch after dark was enough to discover that simply holding my open palm in front of the LED light would allow sufficient light to reflect back onto the tuner to allow me to tune in any station I chose.

Don stated in his article that reception was excellent and I can happily report nothing has changed. Reception in the AM, FM and SW1 and SW2 bands is far better than that to be found on any other radio I own and I can even enjoy listening to Thai Public Radio late at night. At least until the traditional Thai folk music starts, then I'd rather sit back and listen to the relatively relaxing sounds of cats being slowly tortured to death.

It takes very little time on the SW bands to realize the vast majority of stations to be picked up are either Spanish speaking or Christian broadcasting of one sort or another. While many will roll their eyes and pass on by when they come across a Christian station, these broadcasters are well worth noting and remembering. During times of crisis, they may well be the only reliable source of up-to-date information you may find.

I'm still experimenting with the crank powered aspects of this radio and so far, the performance is really not quite up to the claims made by Grundig. The manual indicates that roughly two minutes of cranking should power the radio for approximately thirty minutes and after I've spent some time getting the batteries up to full charge, this may prove to be true. As of now however, I'm finding the ratio of crank time to playing time is running about 1 to 2. That is to say, 15 minutes of cranking will provide 30 minutes of run time and although not up to the maker's claims, this is really not shabby at all. True, 15 minutes of cranking is a lot of cranking and rather than grasping the little knob, I've found that simply pushing the crank through it's rotations with an extended forefinger as if dialing an old fashioned dial telephone works very well. However you choose to do it, I believe keeping a constant charge on the Ni-cads is probably a very good idea. Don suggested I should cruise the local yard sales looking for an old cordless phone using the same type of Ni-cad batteries and connection, and use that to charge the Ni-cads. If I should be lucky enough to find the correct phone, I think this would be an excellent idea but in the meantime, I suspect I'll be doing it the hard way.

In the years since Don's original article, Grundig has been acquired by Eton and the FR-200 is marketed in the US under either or both names. Don't be thrown off if you see a "look-alike" with the name Eton on it, it's the same radio.

This year, Eton is marketing several versions of the hand cranked radio in white with the markings of the American Red Cross on them. The MSRP is the same for these as for the same radios with the standard "paint jobs" and there may be some amount of money donated to the Red Cross with purchase, I'm not sure. Either way, if you want to give money to the Red Cross, give it to the Red Cross, don't buy one of these radios.

Why not?

I can just see myself walking through the devastation after some natural or man-made disaster, clutching my precious crank powered radio, only to be confronted by some 18 year old National Guardsman with orders to shoot looters.

"Where'd you get that radio?"

"Uhhh, I bought it at Radio Shack!"

"Why's it say Red Cross on it? Where'd you steal it?"

(Imagine the sound of an M-16 safety moving from "Safe" to "Full Auto" here.)
Thanks but no, I think I'll take mine in a nice, neutral, brown.

The excellent carrying case Don described in the original article is still being made the same way and I have to say I agree with him about the quality and forethought put into it by it's designers. Place the radio inside it's case, seal the case inside a 1 gallon Ziploc Freezer bag, and you have a light weight, fairly compact and waterproof radio setup that will fit inside a backpack or "bugout bag" with ease. Not only will it survive a dunking this way, it will float as well. Handy feature to have if you're dealing with flooding or heavy rains.

Inside the case is a large pocket containing the Operator's manual for the radio and there is room as well for you to put a log of AM and SW stations you can pick up at various times of day. As in all things survival related, if you're really serious about staying alive when the world around you seems determined to close out your medical chart, you need to spend some quality time with your equipment before you need it, rather than waiting until you're already in trouble and finding out you're not really prepared. This radio or any other is no different. It doesn't take a lot of time to develop and maintain a log of the stations you can receive reliably and just because you can pick up certain stations in your car on the way home from work is no reason to assume you'll be able to pick up those stations when bad things happen.

Consider the nature of AM radio for a moment. The stations you can hear during the day aren't going to be the same ones you hear at night. Without going into detail, this is because of a phenomenon known as "Skip" and the "Skip Zones" created when the F1 and F2 layers of the Ionosphere merge at night. If you want to know more about the hows and whys of it, google those terms and you'll have more information than you know what to do with. But it isn't really necessary to understand the whys, all you really need to know is, local stations have a limited range in the daytime, anywhere from 10 to 20 miles depending on the output wattage of the station, but you won't be able to hear those stations at night. Instead, you'll hear stations from hundreds of miles away. Likewise, people hundreds of miles away won't be able to hear their local stations but they might very well be able to listen to yours.

There's an advantage here. Consider for a moment what happened in August and September of 2005. Hurricane Katrina. People in the New Orleans area were in deep trouble and unfortunately, so were their local radio stations. Whether you can pick up the local station or not becomes a moot point when the station is underwater. So those wanting news, those wanting to find out when help was coming and what the "big picture" looked like, had to tune to distant stations to find out. Distant stations that could only be heard at night. How many people spent all day burning up their precious batteries by trying to pick up out-of-range stations they could have easily tuned in if they'd only known to wait until an hour after sunset?

As always, get to know your equipment and it's capabilities BEFORE you need it.

Ken Cook


Copyright Don Rearic

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