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Inventing the clockwork radio

Production and use

Two businessmen, Christopher Staines and Rory Stear, saw the potential of Trevor Baylis´ prototype and got a donation of 150,000 from the Overseas Development Association to make a commercially viable model.

When details of the new clockwork radio were broadcast in South Africa, an insurance company, Liberty Life, seized the opportunity to develop the new technology. It funded Staines and Stear´s company BayGen (now known as Freeplay) to set up a factory in Cape Town. The first clockwork radio went into production in 1995.

Since then, organisations like UNICEF, the World Bank, the British Red Cross and War Child have distributed clockwork radios around the world, from Rwanda and Kenya to Bosnia and Afghanistan. In Liberia, the United Nations Development Program used wind-up radios to broadcast election results. The government of Ghana bought 30,000 radios so that villagers there could listen to the elections.

War Child has bought enough wind-up radios to help 150,000 South African children to learn English. Every morning the children listen to a 30-minute lesson broadcast over the radio, covering music, dancing and storytelling. As Gordon Naidoo, the programme coordinator, explains: ´In the rural communities we serve, when the batteries die, the learning stops. When we implement the programme with these radios, it is instantly sustainable.´


The Freeplay philosophy



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Practical Action - Technology challenging povertyEuropean Commission - Department for International Development

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