ears to our world

At ETOW, we believe access to information is access to education. We provide innovative, simple and appropriate technologies to schools and communities in remote, rural and impoverished regions of our world.

Filtering by Tag: Radios

Why Radio in Disasters?

by Rob de Santos

What would you do if your car died on a dark road, out of sight of any building? Your mobile phone doesn’t get a signal. The car battery has died. It’s cold, dark, and perhaps even raining. You are truly “out of touch,” not sure when help is going to arrive. Would you be worried? Scared, even?

Now, put yourself in a disaster zone. Your house may be damaged or destroyed. Public utilities aren’t functioning. Power is out and mobile phones aren’t working. You are truly “out of touch.” Now, how might you feel?

The scenarios are remarkably similar in the feelings and concerns they elicit. In both cases, the lack of any communication makes the situation far worse. In both situations, if you could just turn on a radio and get news of what is going on in your area and when help might arrive, your sense of security increases as your fears diminish.

Such is the power of radio. When other communications fail, a simple radio with a crank or solar panel for power and knob to tune it offers a reassuring voice. A source of knowledge instead of just rumors. Before schools can get outside resources, or children can travel over repaired roads, radio provides a funnel of information that allows education to continue.

It’s easy (and necessary) in a disaster to think about necessities such as food, shelter, and clean water. How do people in the disaster learn where to go and how to get help with these basic needs? If you live in the industrialized world you might just assume it will show up where you are, sooner or later. As many found even in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the United States, that can be a risky assumption. What you need is information on how to help yourself, and the best way to get the information is through a radio.

Finding the right radios

Our radios are self-powered by built-in hand cranks. If you search the internet for shortwave radios, you'll find there are a lot of radios on the market. Like many consumer electronics, they come in all sizes, colors, price categories, and offer a dizzying array of features.

For our purposes, the selection is unfortunately not as extensive. Ears To Our World (ETOW) distributes radios to teachers and classrooms in very rural parts of the world, so our needs are quite different.

What do we look for in an ETOW radio? Here is a list of our basic requirements:

  • The ability to power itself --Because the rural locations where we work usually do not have mains electrical power, these radios must have a mechanism for charging themselves, such as through  the use of a hand-crank generator or a solar panel.
  • Adequate frequency coverage -- The bulk of our radios will be going to destinations that use much lower shortwave frequencies (for local stations) than we are used to in North America. Our minimum requirement is that a radio's SW1 coverage will receive down to 5.8 MHz, but we give preference to radios that can range lower. In a few years, solar activity will make it possible for much more distant stations to be heard with clarity in the higher SW2 frequencies; thus we also seek radios that reach up to 22 MHz. Many countries also utilize the FM and mediumwave (AM) bands for local news and information. (For a sampling of what is available on these frequencies, look through the broadcast schedules on our Programming page.)
  • High-quality build -- Our radios will be handled by teachers and children very intensively. They need to be very rugged, designed to take the rigors of busy school environments, and operable outdoors.
  • All ETOW radios will sport an LED reading lamp.

    Good sound fidelity -- The built-in speaker on our radios must be capable of producing enough volume that it can be heard in a large classroom (or outdoor area) without the distortion of sound.

  • Simple to operate -- Our radios will be accompanied by a basic custom-designed owner's guide and we hope to provide on-site education to our teachers and radio guardians; however, it is essential that the radio functions are also intuitive.
  • Sensitivity -- Our radios must have receivers strong enough to pull international broadcast stations.
  • Built-in reading lamp -- The radios we are testing have built-in LED lights that act as flashlights or reading lamps, a crucial function in the areas we supply--helping our teachers and students read after sundown, as well as improving safety.

Factoring in the above minimum requirements narrows the extensive collection of shortwave radios on the world market to approximately ten radios. Choosing the right radios to test out of these final few is difficult.

Luckily, we have friends in the right places; ETOW is fortunate to have the support of Fred Osterman (President of Universal Radio in Reynoldsburg, OH). Universal Radio has been sending us a steady supply of self-powered shortwave receivers, which we are currently testing. Without Universal's exceedingly generous support, we would have been forced to dedicate our limited funds to purchase these test radios.

With Fred's help, we have narrowed our selection to two radios, either of which is likely to serve our purpose. When we make our final selection, we will post the announcement here on the ETOW website.

If you'd like to find out what radios passed the hurdles, check back soon!

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