Sunday, August 17, 2008

Singgih Kartono's Wooden Retro Radios

It takes 16 hours to make a wooden radio by hand. That, at least, is the story from South-East Asia. I remember reading about the ultimate minimalist wooden radio designed by Indonesian artist Singgih Kartono sometime last year. I was reminded by a follow-up article in British Airways' Business Magazine this week.

The story wasn't so much about the technology inside (which was simply a good but basic analogue AM/FM circuit in the first model), but the fact that the radio uses sustainably harvested pine wood and palisander/sonokeling. There's no feel your way across the dial. Designer Singgih (photo below) wanted to revitalize local craft industries, gradually creating jobs for up to 30 people who were making simple high-quality handicraft products. The workshop is in Temanggung in Central Java.

Singgih Kartono adds more details about the sustainability side of the project in a company brochure.

As a wood consumer, I feel morally responsible towards replacing the woods that I have used. This will ensure that all manufacturing activities that I conducted would not destroy the nature. I do this by re-planting every single tree that I’ve used from the forest. The amount of wood replanted and selected is based on our yearly wood consumption, suitable age for wood to be grown and cut, and the requirement of land per tree. We estimated that for the 40 people we could employ, we could have replanted one to two hectares of land with our selected wood. Currently, Kandangan has almost no forest land. The population is about 4.000 people.If we are to employ the whole population of Kandangan, we will abolish unemployment but most importantly, for every people we employ, we will generate more woods through our forest regeneration programs. Additionally, based on our current income, we receive USD 2.500-3.000 per month; enough to sustain 10 employees.

With regards to the forest regeneration, on the top of preparing our own tree saplings, we are also in collaboration with Gunung Sumbing (Mountain Sumbing) junior high school. We work together with the school to create a practical curriculum within the field of environmental generation. Four months ago, the students from this school have helped us to grow trees from seeds. Currently, these seeds have grown into 1.000 young trees that are ready to be planted. We are planning to have these trees replanted around the school area. The students want to have schools that are surrounded by trees. All this activities are funded through a part of our sales income.

My production company, Piranti Works, has 30 employees. They are locals. We are in the process of extending our workshop so it is able to employ around 50 employees. They will use only around 50 to 100 trees per year. The remaining 2.200sqm lands that I own are used as a tree nursery, where I will distribute free trees to the villagers. I purposely distribute these trees freely as I want to teach the villagers that the right economy activity will give positive contribution towards sustainable environment.

There's a German website, based in Hamburg, that has the distribution rights for Europe. The German language version of the site goes into more detail, explaining that this model weighs 955 grams, and is 19.1 by 11.7 by 13.5 cm in size. It works off 4 AA penlights and the radios are made to order for the price of 149 Euros, plus 5 Euros postage in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The radios are sent sea mail via Singapore, which takes up to six weeks. A small stock is held in Germany.

There will be a slight modification to the radio sets as from mid October 2008. A DC input has been added for a external 3V DC power supply (not included. The new version of Magno radio also has a socket on the back which allows you to connect any MP3 player and listen to it via the radio's mono speaker. Since this is wood rather than plastic, it apparently sounds great (haven't heard it myself). The price then will be around 160 Euros.

Towards the end of the year, a new "Mango Cube" wooden radio is also due. This has two short-wave bands on it, as well as AM/FM and is supposed to start shipping around November 1, 2008. This one also has a dial - though we're not sure what calibration will be like. A site in the US is now taking pre-orders for this radio at US$250 excluding shipping. This looks like a work of art - and it is priced accordingly. I wonder what sales would be like if they made the price 175 Dollars?

UPDATE: Oliver Errichiello in Hamburg, who is the main driver behind the project in Indonesia sent me the following comment after this post was published. "I think it is realistic to say that we will start selling the Cube in early 2009 in Europe. The price will be about 180 Euros. This assumes that the testing and roll out in the USA and Canada late this year goes well.

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