Freeplay Radio

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The words “ethical” and “sustainable” are in many ways the cornerstones of a new order that seeks to put others above self and to provide real solutions for those problems that cannot be solved at the flick of a switch. Just try to imagine the impact on your corner of this world without running water, sanitation or ready access to 24 hour electricity?

“Tomorrow’s World” was an excellent BBC TV programme that featured gadgets, devices and reports about evolving technologies and new inventions. An episode in April 1994 carried a report on the work Trevor Baylis, a British inventor, who had designed a “Clockwork Radio” with a windup mainspring prompted by the need to deliver clear health information to the population of Africa about to threat from the AIDS epidemic.

Christopher Staines was watching and realized the potential of Baylis’ innovative idea on a continent where disposable batteries were scarce. In 1995 Staines and business partner, South African, Rory Stear started BayGen Power Industries in Cape Town, (South Africa) – which would later be renamed Freeplay Energy Ltd.

Whilst still called BayGen the company introduced a hand cranked clockwork torch which had a small energy storage capacity.

Following the securing of necessary funding the Clockwork Radio idea was developed with Baylis filing his first patent in 1992. In 1996 the Freeplay radio was awarded the BBC Design Award for Best Product and Best Design and the Design Council’s Millennium Product Award.

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Not particularly beautiful, the Freeplay radio doesn’t set its sights on winning lifestyle awards, it is however, a wonderfully honest and thoroughly useful design classic.

Freeplay still makes a range of radios and other products but the previous clockwork mechanisms have now been entirely replaced by small batteries charged by a hand-crank or solar powered generators. Their range seems to primarily address the solutions required by the “off-grid” humanitarian market where their devices, in addition to being a radio receiver, come complete with torches and mobile phone rechargers incorporated into the one unit.

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Trevor Bayliss experience appears not to have been altogether happy and his control of his major invention appears to have been lost. In part to help solve these issues for others, Mr Bayliss established a business advising inventors on the appropriate course of action required to protect their Intellectual Property Rights and to raise the necessary funds required to realise their inventions.

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I bought a Freeplay radio – a Ranger – in 2002 as I planned to undertake a journey from London to Malaga driving my wife’s beautiful Citroen 2CV. You can see here my earlier post Citroën 2CV. For some reason, we hadn’t added any form of in car entertainment to the car and endless hours of boredom were minimised by the small Freeplay radio and the frequently changing French and Spanish radio stations as I made my way South. The Ranger’s small solar charging panel was also very effective.

True to Freeplay’s publicity 30 seconds of cranking the wheel attached to the back of the radio and I got around 30 minutes of radio use.


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I am an English trained and experienced lawyer. I have lived with my wife and family for nearly twenty years in the “California of Europe” - at the tip of Southern Europe. I am a proud European and driven to evangelize about the quality of life to be enjoyed here.

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