At the Start of Every Best Day: The General Electric Digital Clock Radio

Behind decades of dawn patrols and epic pre-work sunrises is the trusty alarm clock I’ve been using since I was a teenager

If I must wake up to an alarm, I want the voices of NPR’s news reporters to coax forth my return to consciousness. On the best days, my wake-up is timed alongside Morning Edition’s musical theme followed by: “It’s 6:01. The news is next.” If it’s some god-awful, inhumane hour (which for me is anything before 4 AM), then I get BBC radio. I have a love-hate relationship with BBC. Unfortunately, I associate it with the hours between 1 AM and 5 AM. On the other hand, soft British accents make a palatable soundtrack when I’m fumbling through my coffee routine and readying for some pre-dawn outing.

For more than two decades, my General Electric Digital Clock Radio has supplied the audio accompaniment to my morning routine. From my childhood home in Pennsylvania to college in Virginia, followed by a cross-country move to Oregon, this clock has remained at my (bed)side. Although I have to periodically shift its position to get a clear signal, and the minute button has gotten sticky, for roughly 8,000 days and more than half my life, this radio has kickstarted pre-work trail runs, alpine start ski mountaineering missions, international flights, and countless unremarkable workdays.

D.E. Protzman patented the first digital clock radio in 1956, and General Electric models date to the 1960s. I have a 7-4612B model, which is from the 1980s. I can’t remember when I got mine — I assumed my parents got it for me when I went to college in 2002, but the model number indicates I may have had it as a child. At any rate, it’s now considered vintage. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Pros: It Lasts Forever

Without a doubt, this radio’s standout feature is its durability. Since at least college, the only time it has ever failed to wake me up has been during an overnight power outage, although I can’t think of any incident where this had consequences. Other pros include being able to wake up to NPR radio — as far as I know, the iPhone can’t do this. And speaking of smartphones, using a digital alarm clock allows me to leave my phone in another room while I’m sleeping, ensuring less scrolling and better sleep quality.

Cons: Setting the Alarm Requires Your (Brief) Attention

The biggest drawback of this clock is that it has a sizable margin for user error, like when I’ve accidentally set the alarm for PM instead of AM. The worst was when I woke up at the exact time I was supposed to be meeting friends to carpool to Mt. Hood for a springtime ski mountaineering mission. I yanked on clothes, threw gear in the car, and made coffee in order to catch up with my friends at the trailhead — and in my hurry, I forgot one of my climbing skins.

Another downside of this device is that if you use the radio for the alarm rather than the electronic beeping noise, you have to make sure the radio is properly tuned. I’ve learned the hard way that the static between stations will not rouse me from sleep. Next, this clock radio has only one alarm setting, so I have to manually reprogram it every time I want to change my wake-up time. I don’t mind clicking through the hour and minute buttons, but this brings me back to my point about human error.

Verdict: Durability and Nostalgia Outweigh the Drawbacks

Among my belongings that could be considered gear, my General Electric Digital Clock Radio has initiated almost every single adventure over the past two decades. While it may be easy to hit the snooze button and forget about the role this little device plays in my daily life, there’s no doubt that it deserves an honorary spot among my most well-loved gear. 

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