By Brendan I. Koerner
Is there any low-end gadget more ubiquitous than the clock radio? There's nary a fleabag motel room in the world, from Oklahoma City to Ouagadougou, that doesn't have one of these slumber-piercing marvels of digital technology perched upon the nightstand. How, exactly, did mankind awake before the clock radio's invention? Did folks actually have to forego the screechy pleasures of Mike and Mike in the Morning at 6:30 a.m.? The mind boggles.
Most clock radios, alas, are pretty straightforward affairs—your basic molded plastic boxes with dials and snooze bars. Fortunately, some budget-conscious product designers have rolled the ball ever-so-slightly forward in the clock-radio realm. This week, Low End Theory went in search of the most innovative clock radios on the market, provided they were priced under the magic $20 barrier. Because, honestly, who has more than $20 to spend on a frickin' clock radio? Certainly not a motel proprietor in Burkina Faso.
The full rundown of affordable, semi-marvelous clock radios comes after the jump. PLUS: Who's got the skinny on Supersonic?
Before I get to the bargains, first let me drop a little wisdom regarding the clock radio's glorious history. Luxury vendor Bulova claims to have invented the gadget back in 1928, but the good folks at Smithsonian magazine say it ain't so. This 1997 snippet depicts a 1921 handwound version, which I'm sure did an excellent job of picking up the one or two radio stations in existence at the time. (Super-geek bit of trivia, courtesy of Wikipedia: the world's first radio news program was broadcast out of Detroit in 1920.)
Of course, clock radios didn't start getting seriously low-end until the advent of foreign manufacturing and digital displays. Nowadays, you can pick up a perfectly serviceable model for under $10, provided you don't care a whit about style and reception quality.
Now, reception quality I can do without: I need a little fuzzed-out blather to get me up, and I've got my laptop-stereo-WEFUNK combo to satisfy my musical needs. But no way I'm giving up on style, even with a light wallet. And so the Conairphone TCR200 (picture above) is like manna from heaven. Totally a chocolate-and-peanut-butter combination, except with an "oversized snooze button" and (get this spec) "AM/FM tuning." You mean they have FM now? Sweet. And yours for only $14.02.
My snooping around revealed that the biggest recent innovation in the clock-radio space is projection—that is, the clocks will cast the time on the wall opposite your bed, so you needn't twist your head toward the nightstand at 3 a.m. The best-looking model I could dredge up comes from jWin, a Low End Theory favorite. For some reason, it totally reminds me of Twiki from the 1979-1981 TV version of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.