A time when we rebelled against over-advertised, and over-priced Gillette Fusion cartridges. Not by growing beards (that would come in the 2010's). But rather by shaving with $100 German double-edge razors, badger hair brushes, and artisial shaving soaps instead.
This here is a cheap pocket radio, like you could find at Walmart for $5. Except that it is built to tune into only one frequency, it has no headphone jack, and its form-factor is a old-timey mason jar. It's "artisanal", and "locally-sourced" and all that, and it does look like a pretty conversation piece. But do people still gravitate to stuff like this?
I'm asking from genuine curiosity, because I'm not sure whether the "hipster" era faded away, or if it's still there and I just grew a little too old?
Your skepticism is something I hear a lot, and something I make it a rule not to argue with. A lot of people look at The Public Radio with disdain, and at least as many look at it without any emotional reaction at all (which is arguably worse). This was never meant to be a mass market product, and it's okay that not everyone likes it.
I will say, however, that our customer base might not be as young, bearded, and IPA-drinking as you might expect. We do sell a lot to Brooklyn (I live in Brooklyn; Kickstarter is in Brooklyn; etc) but one of our biggest customers to date is KUER, which is Utah's NPR affiliate. We've also sold large orders to a pop station in Singapore, an Orthodox Jewish community radio station in New Jersey, and to someone's grandma in rural Nebraska who makes mason jars into light fixtures that look like fireflies (one of our first customers, back in ~early 2014).
As to whether the market's going away: As I mentioned in another comment, I'm continuously surprised when I see The Public Radio in the wild and can say without reservation that we have sold way more of these things than I ever expected. And if it were someone else's creation, there's a good chance that I'd look at it with furrowed brows as well.
This is not a throwback to the safety-razor hipster era of yesterday, this is a manifestation of the artisan-chic post hipster/hipster-yuppie/yupster reality of today.
Alternate take: in an increasingly complicated world, people are coming to value simplicity and aesthetics, and will pay for these things.
The double-edge safety razor can either be something that's cost saving compared to Gillette or an expensive hobby. I personally know people that spent $750 in shaving equipment, only to go back to an electric Phillips within five years.
But if you're the type that is going to spend huge amounts on fancy soaps and multiple brushes etc.. Then yeah you won't save money but you'll probably be spending it on other stuff anyway if you're that type.
Badger hair brushes should really be replaced more frequently than once every seven years. The soaps/creams build up over time, and bristles get damaged during use, and it's something that frequently gets wet with hot water which can cause bacteria buildup.
In this case the "job to be done" is probably not really to listen to news/music (there's a million better things for this).
Likely it's emotional.. decoration, nostalgia, "toy"
Therefore alternatives to this product are not other radios but other fun decorations, throw back items, or simple electronic devices.
For modeling I think this is similar to "the light phone" that also did well on crowd funding. So I think there is a trend here.
I think it's about the overall experience: tactile, "old fashioned", and functional.
Pressing play on an iPhone is a thoughtless experience. Lifting the needle or grabbing a knob is more engaging.
I think it's meaningful to surround yourself with objects that remind you who you are, and your ability to shape your world. I do not get this sense with Spotify or Apple Music or Youtube. I still use those services but there's a sense of detachment, like listening to an song in a store.
Another aspect might be just being different than his dad. I got my first hi-fi system in the early 80s. Today, my "home stereo" is an old cell phone and a bluetooth audio adapter board that powers a pair of bookshelf speakers.
For many years I listened effectively to just one radio station, and something like this would have indeed been delightful.
I could see using this to rekindle my love for public radio.
This idea that non-cartridge shaving is an expensive hipster pursuit is probably FUD promulgated by the companies trying to sell you razor cartridges. Everything I currently own for shaving cost me less that a single pack of replacement cartridges.
That being said, there are still a lot of people out there in a certain age bracket with a certain life style for whom $60 isn't a big deal and they would be be more than happy to pay that much for something that 'brings them joy'. The Farmers Market set is still out there and living large, even if it isn't quite as rampant as it was a few years ago.
Now if it was $25, I would probably get one in a heartbeat, because that's my 'this isn't going to hurt me and if I enjoy it, why not' price.
For what it's worth, we would have loved to sell The Public Radio for $25 and tried for many years at $40/45. I think that our experience is a testament to the idea that at least sometimes, it's okay to raise your prices above what you personally would be willing to pay. But yes, it's a very expensive member of its category (battery powered FM radios) even without the UI limitations.
i think you’ve grown a little too old.
But what's really cool is they have a way to program radios which are sealed inside a cardboard shipping box, without batteries installed.
> In other words: We’re making a piece of consumer electronics just-in-time in the US.
It is indeed hard to bring down costs that way, but when each unit needs to be individually programmed, as in this situation, this is a sensible way of doing it.
This is also a good way to do low volume production in general for hardware side-projects and the like. My own Relay (https://foundrytechnologies.com/relay.php) is made in the same way - the components come from China but the assembly and firmware upload is done in the US. This also keeps the firmware confidential, which works well for IP protection. For higher volumes, I'd think we'd eventually move the assembly offshore, but not the firmware upload.
For example, I'm deeply uncomfortable with doing business with china because of the million Uyghurs in concentration camps - but if I want to buy simple passive electronic components to populate a circuit board I've got no other choice?
In many ways I'd say the answer is still in flux. On the one hand this is a part-time business that has not, by any means, made either myself or my partner rich. On the other hand, we sold our first units in 2014 and are in continuous production today. It's a weird side business to have, but we've figured out a way to make it fit into our careers/lives.
In other words, I'm continuously surprised that The Public Radio continues to be a _thing_ and am always slightly shocked when I see one in the wild. And it's nice to have something like that.
Why this button isn't just available on the lid is beyond me. While I do appreciate simplicity I really don't understand the value of a single station radio either.
The reason that the button isn't on the lid is because that makes the lid uglier and, more importantly, undermines the philosophy behind the UI - which is to keep the device as absolutely simple as possible. The idea came from my partner (Zach Dunham) and was inspired partly by Radiolab's 2008 episode, "Choice" - it's a bit of a deep cut but I recommend listening to it and thinking a little bit about how choice functions in the FM radio world (which is, obviously, competing with Spotify & podcasts) today.
Also note that we developed the product in ~2013, when everyone in the hardware scene in NYC was all into IoT and making everything bluetooth. I think there was part of us that believed that IoT (and connecting everything to the internet) was misguided and that having a long term relationship with a local news/radio source (which for me is Hot 97, but for most of our customers is their local NPR affiliate) is actually really cool/powerful/valuable.
Lastly, you should note that a lot of our business now comes from selling The Public Radio to radio stations (again, mostly NPR affiliates) to give out as fund drive gifts. For obvious reasons, having a single-channel radio is attractive to both the station managers and their donating listeners.
Here in NYC, we have two NPR-affiliated public radio stations that often play different content, WNYC AM and WNYC FM, and their parent organization also runs WQXR (a classical music station) and NJ public radio. So even if you only listen to public radio (like I do), an untunable FM-only radio wouldn't be enough. ("Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.")
My ideal "simple" radio would be one that worked like my car radio: you can preset any number of AM/FM stations and then select them with forward/backward buttons. (And once you have a display that can indicate the station, it would be sad if it couldn't also be an alarm clock.)
There are hundreds of other markets in the United States than New York City (and tens of thousands worldwide), and the vast majority of them have just one public radio station.
This isn't a "public radio tuner." It's a single station tuner.
For two, we definitely tried that early on! And we've had a lot of conversations about replacing the potentiomenter (which controls power and volume) with a rotary encoder (which, if you added a push button to it, could be used to control a lot of other interactions with the radio, including seek/scan, etc). The issue is that doing so would easily raise our cost by $5, which means we need to raise our retail pricing by $15 or $20, which ends up being crazy.
I've said this elsewhere in this thread, but The Public Radio totally isn't for everyone! But a surprising number of people like it just the way it is, and we've worked hard to build a business to support their needs as efficiently as possible.
But you're not keeping it simple, you're just pretending the complexity doesn't exist. The task still needs to be performed, and you've made it far more difficult.
And, whatever philosophy we bring to the table is really neither here nor there. Our customers (apparently) like our product enough to buy it, and we have really low return rates, and the customer support emails (which I literally respond to 100% of) are almost exclusively positive and outright friendly. But that doesn't mean you have to like the product! And anyway the point of the blog post was to explain how our business works operationally - not to promote (or defend) the product itself.
Apparent complexity matters just as much as real complexity.
We recently moved house and had to return our radio, even just to stay on the same station (they broadcast on slightly different local frequencies across the country to overcome local noise).
I'm seriously considering buying one of these but wouldn't be if it wasn't reprogrammable; I'm not into throw-away electronics because of the environmental impact.
It's more "hackable" than "tunable."
If it was a "tunable radio," then the tuning mechanism would be exposed to the user.
I'm fascinated by the idea that one of the features they chose to cut from their initial release - arbitrary tuning - has ended up significantly constraining how they can manufacture their product at their scale.
I'm guessing that there's a deeper philosophical reason for not building an end-user tunable radio that isn't simply "it's a feature we decided to cut so we could ship on time"
I tend to use vintage (80's era) clock radios at home for my tabletop radios, because of their decent pricing.
That said, it's a brilliant idea and I can see the appeal to many who do listen to one public station all day.