Little radios can be hugely important

14 Mar

If you’re looking for reliable, inexpensive shower radio, the paint-spattered relic on the left is highly recommended. Take a pass on the newer, more expensive device on the right. (Geoff Meeker photo)

March 14, 2011

By Geoff Meeker

The small ‘shower radio’ in my bathroom is one of the most-used pieces of technology in the house.

For at least five years, the Merangue Shower Clock Radio has been my companion through power outages, outdoor painting projects, basement clean-ups and perhaps 2,000 shave and shower rituals. It cost just $10 at the local drug store, and squeezed a lot of juice – about three month’s worth – out of four double-A batteries.

I never did use it in the shower – that’s just silly – but the battery power meant it was safe around the bathroom sink. It was durable and light, ideal to take along whenever there was a project, indoors or out. And because it was cheap, it didn’t much matter if it got dropped, kicked over, spattered with paint or caught in the rain.

Alas, the on/off volume switch is finally wearing out. It is time to replace my precious little piece of junk. Knowing this moment was coming, I’d been searching for a replacement for several months now. Last summer, the drug and department stores said the item is only available before Christmas (presumably as a stocking stuffer). However, last year it didn’t appear. The product is gone. I need to find a replacement.

Last week, the Eton Scorpion caught my eye (at Future Shop). It’s a rugged, portable radio that never needs batteries – it works off solar power, has a hand-cranked generator, and a USB port to charge up your mobile phone. The features were ideal, and worth the $60 if it all worked as described.

But there were problems. It takes about five hours to fully charge on solar, so I used the hand-cranking option. It took about five minutes of rather tiring effort to charge fully, which is acceptable, but when I turned it on, there was continuous and irritating feedback on the CBC channel. As well, the charging feature didn’t work on my iPhone. I took it back for a replacement.

Alas, the second unit had the exact same problem – persistent feedback on CBC. The instructions are vague, so I did some online research and found that, in order to charge a cell phone, you need to crank continuously for as long as it takes to charge the phone. That could be an hour or more. Um, sorry, but I don’t have the time or energy for that.

All in all, the unit failed to deliver on its promises. Back to the store it went.

I shopped around the department and electronics stores, asking about small battery operated radios, but could fine none.

Since then, I’ve been searching the Internet, checking out my options. I found the manufacturer of the Merangue, but the look of the unit has changed dramatically. I assume the quality and value is there, but can’t find a store that sells the unit in Canada. Frustrating.

I found an interesting model, the Nexxtech AM/FM Shower Radio, at thesource.ca, and called the local store to see if they carry it. They don’t. It’s available online only, for $15, plus $5 shipping.

I checked Sony’s online catalogue, and found a pocket sized FM/AM radio (model number ICF-S10MK2) for just $10. A call to the local Sony store revealed that, in Canada, the price is actually $20. (This discrepancy between dollar values and product pricing is grist for a future column.)

This tiny radio is only slightly larger than my smartphone, so it doesn’t look very rugged. However, it fits in the pocket, so should be subject to less wear and tear. It’s a Sony, so there is some expectation of quality. It takes just two double-A batteries, which is perfect (the triple-A are much more expensive). There’s an earphone output, something the shower radio didn’t have, and its small size makes it even more portable – ideal for hiking or working out.

The Sony Store had none in stock, but the salesperson was expecting three more next week. He said they are one of the biggest sellers in the store, and sell out as fast as they come in. You’d better believe it. Of the three coming in, I’ve already spoken for one.

One final thing: If you should happen to see one of those portable, $10 shower radios at your local store, don’t buy one. Buy three. I’ll be happy to take one off your hands.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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