How to Make an Old-Time Radio Into an Mp3 Player Speaker

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 19, 2011 · 88 comments

in Uncategorized

I love old-time radios. They’re sturdy and good-looking. And there’s a reason for that. Back in the day appliances were considered pieces of home furniture, so a lot of thought and care went into their design. People wanted something that not only played Glenn Miller, but that also went well with their home’s traditional decor. The result was marvelous pieces of technology encased in handsome wood and fabric.

A few months ago, I inherited my grandpa’s old 1940s Philco radio. It’s positively manly looking. It had a few dings in the wood, but it looked fantastic sitting on my desk. It still worked, but only played AM radio. I thought it was a shame that it didn’t get much use except as decoration. So I had a thought.

“Would it be possible to mod my radio so that I could play music from my iPod on it?”

To answer my question, I called up my electrical engineer brother-in-law, Ryan Davis. His response? “Of course!”

My grandpa's old Philco modded so I can use my iPhone with it.

I headed over to his electrical engineering laboratory in his house with my radio in tow, and he fixed me up. Now I have an audio device with 1940s charm and 21st century technology.

I figured a lot of AoM readers would want something similar in their home or office, so I asked Ryan if he’d help me create a tutorial so you all could make your own mp3-playing old-time radio too. Ryan was happy to oblige.

Two Ways of Modding: The Easy Way and the Hard Way

There are two ways you can go about modding an old radio so you can connect your iPod to it. One approach is to add an audio input right into the old tube amplifier. This mod is nice because your iPod music gets that warm, vintage tube amp sound, and you can still maintain your radio’s radio capability. This is how Ryan modded my grandpa’s old Philco radio.

The problem with this approach is that it’s really difficult to do for the average Joe. First, you have to find a radio that still has a working tube amp, which can be hard and makes the radio more expensive. You can find plenty of radios with working speakers, just not a working tube amplifier.

Second, you have to do some complex rewiring on the radio to add the audio input. Your first step is to find the radio’s electrical schematic online. That’s the easy part. There’s a great site that has all the schematics for old-time radios. The hard part is knowing how to read the schematic so you know where to add a new audio input. This takes some skill and know-how. When Ryan worked on my grandpa’s radio, he tried explaining what we needed to do to make the change. It went completely over my head. Of course, I acted like I knew exactly what he was talking about (“Oh, yeah. Of course you need to put a new transistor in the flux capacitor. It’s so obvious…”).

With that said, if there’s enough interest in seeing how to mod an old radio into an iPod speaker this way, Ryan said he’d be happy to demonstrate how to do it in a future post.

The second approach is to bypass the existing tube amp altogether by adding a new, smaller, and more modern amplifier to the radio and connecting it to the radio’s existing speaker. This way is much easier because you don’t need to know how to read complicated electrical schematics.  You also don’t need a working radio. As long as your radio has a working speaker, you’re golden. You can even use a radio with a broken speaker. Just buy a new 2″ speaker for $4 and replace the old speaker in a snap.

Today, we’re showing you how to mod your old radio using the easy approach. It took Ryan and I less than 30 minutes to complete this project. If you’re new to electrical tinkering, it may take you a bit longer. But I’m not kidding when I say this: if you’ve never done any type of electrical projects, you can do this.  It’s the perfect weekend project to work on with the kiddos.

Ready to get started? Let’s do this!

Gather Supplies

An Old-time Radio

The most important part! The best place to get them are antique stores, flea markets, or yard sales. You can find them on eBay, but they’re WAY overpriced. Even broken radios on eBay go for about $60-70. And by broken I mean it doesn’t work, and it’s missing half of the wooden cabinet. I went to the local flea market last weekend and spotted several nice cathedral radios in great shape for $20-$30.

I picked up this old Farnsworth radio at a local antique store for about $30. The outside is in pretty good condition, but it doesn’t power up. That’s common with old radios, but it’s okay. The only part we need to work is the speaker.  Usually when old radios are burnt out, the speaker still works fine. So if you find a nice-looking vintage radio that doesn’t work, buy it. It will work for our project.

Important Note: Commenter J.W. Koebel brought to our attention that if you want to use the radio’s original speaker like we do in this project , the speaker needs to be a permanent magnet speaker. Radios from about the mid-1940s and on should have permanent magnet speakers. Earlier radios used electrodynamic speakers. Our amp won’t work with electrodynamic speakers.

How do you know if your old-time radio has permanent magnet speakers? Check the back of the speaker. If it has 2 or 3 wires going to the speaker, it’s a permanent magnet speaker.

If you decide to use an older radio that lacks a permanent magnet speaker, you can still do this project. You’ll just need to pull out that speaker and replace it with a permanent magnet speaker. It’s not difficult. Ryan sells a 2″ speaker on his site for $4. Pick one up when you buy the amp.

Amplifier

Ryan sells these on his site. Ryan used his electrical engineering skills and designed these amps specifically for vintage radio mods. They should work with most types of old radios. You can buy the amps pre-built for $26. Select “Pre-built kit” when you check out. If you’re feeling particularly handy, you can buy the kit and put the amp together yourself. The unassembled kit is $20. And of course if you’re super handy with electronics, you can experiment with designing your own amp.

12 Volt Power Supply

You might have one lying around the house. If not, pick one up at Radio Shack.

Soldering Iron

22 Gauge Copper Strand Wire

1/8″ (3.5 mm) Audio Cable

We’ll plug one end into our iPod or other audio source and the other end into our amplifier.

Mod Your Old-Time Radio

We have our supplies. Time to get to work. Keep in mind that every old-time radio is different. How this Farnsworth radio looks on the inside will be different from how your Philco or Zenith looks on the inside. However, all old radios pretty much work the same way, so the steps below should work for your radio. Just know that you may need to use your noodle a bit to find the analogous parts on your radio.

Remove Radio From Cabinet

Unscrew the back and remove.

There's the radio. We're going to be taking that out so we can do some modding.

The radio is screwed into the bottom of the wood cabinet. So we need to remove all those screws to remove the radio.

We also need to remove the knobs to slide the radio out.

Alright. Remove the radio. You might have a bunch of crud inside your radio and among the parts. Just clean it up as best you can.

Tuner, speaker, tube amp. Let's get to work modding this bad boy.

Disconnect Old Wire Speakers

Disconnect the old speaker wires from the speaker's solder terminals. Here they are on our radio.

Use your soldering iron to disconnect the old wire from the speaker's soldering terminals.

Connect New Speaker Wire

Get your new wire ready.

Strip back a bit of the insulation and put some solder on the new wire so it's ready to be connected to the speaker.

Connect the new wire to the speaker soldering terminal. Here's Ryan connecting the first new line of wire to the speaker. After you solder the wire to the speaker input, cut it so it's long enough to reach the side of the radio cabinet.

Now for the second wire. Strip back the insulation a bit. Add some solder to the end.

Soldering second wire to second speaker solder terminal. After you've connected the new wire, cut it so it's long enough to reach the side of the inside of the cabinet. We're not connecting any wire to that middle solder terminal. It doesn't do anything. We're done adding new speaker wires.

Remove Capacitor From Potentiometer

We want to be able to control the volume with the radio’s volume knob. To do that we need to run some new wire from the volume knob to the new amp. Here’s how to do it.

Find the volume knob on the radio. Look behind it. See that black round thing? That right there is called a potentiometer, or pot for short. It controls the volume. See that orange thing sticking out from the pot? That's a capacitor. We need to remove that so we can connect some new wire for our new amp.

Use your soldering iron to remove the capacitor from the pot. Here's what the pot looks like sans capacitor.

Add New Volume Wire to Volume Knob (or Pot)

See those three soldering terminals on the pot? That's where we're going to connect the new wire.

Take some new wire, pull back the insulation a bit, and add some solder to it.

Add new wire to each of the three solder terminals.

Finished adding new wires to pot soldering terminals. A beautiful sight. Remember to cut each wire so it's long enough to reach the inside side of the radio cabinet.

Ryan suggests making the middle wire a little longer than the other two. When we connect the wires into the amp, we need to make sure the wire from the middle soldering terminal on the pot connects with the middle screw terminal on the amp. Making the middle wire longer than the other two wires makes it easier to figure out which wire is the middle wire.

We threaded the volume wires through a hole we found in the tube amplifier so we could make it to the new amp. Keeps things tidy.

Connect Wires to New Amp

Find the pot screw terminal on the amp. It's the little black thing with three holes in it and three screws on top. Connect the middle wire from the pot to the middle screw terminal on the amp, like so.

Connect the other two wires from the pot into the two outside screw terminals on the amp.

When you test out your radio, if you notice that the volume gets softer when you turn it up, you need to switch the two outside wires in the pot terminals on the amp. No biggie. Just unscrew them, make the switch, and screw down the wires again.

Connect the speaker wires into the speaker amp terminal. It doesn't matter which wire goes into which terminal. All the wires are connected! We're almost done!

Re-assemble Radio

Put the radio back into cabinet. Make sure to put the knobs back on.

Put the screws back in the bottom.

Mount Amp Inside Radio Cabinet

Sticky tape is your friend.

Put some sticky tape on the back of the amp.

Mount the amp on the inside of the cabinet.

Plug-in Your Power Cable and Audio Source and Play!

Plug-in your power and audio cable.

Enjoy having your modern music play from an old-time radio!

Here’s a video of our old-time radio in action:

{ 88 comments… read them below or add one }

1 J.W. Koebel September 19, 2011 at 4:28 pm

This is an interesting modification, but it’s important to note that you can’t just grab any radio and convert it. Only radios with permanent magnet speakers (“modern” type) can be converted, and you can identify these by generally having only 2 or 3 wires going to the speaker. Radios made before about the mid ’40s used “electrodynamic” speakers which lacked a magnet, instead using a coil of wire powered by a few hundred volts to produce the magnetic field necessary for reproducing sound. You can identify an electrodynamic-type speaker as one that has 4 or 5 wires going to the speaker. Don’t grab the wrong one or it won’t work!

2 L. Dubnitzky September 19, 2011 at 4:33 pm

An iPhone?

Totally manly.

3 Lars September 19, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Nice guide for a beginner.

There are alot of fun, you can do with an old-time radio and amps.
Here is some fun you can do with an “old” amp, if you want a fullfledged jukebox with wi-fi. unfortunately the text is in swedish, but i think the photos says it all.

http://www.sweclockers.com/galleri/6658-retrostereo

4 Dave W. September 19, 2011 at 4:52 pm

You might want to include details such as how to properly apply solder to wire(s). Other than that this looks like a cool project and thanks Koebel for the extra facts.

5 Jeremy September 19, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Oh yes, please! I want to know how to add an audio input into the tube amp. I have a vague idea about finding the transition from the tuner to the audio amplifier, but don’t know details, like how to properly disconnect the tuner so you don’t get audio in on top of the radio, how you trip the MP3 player levels to match the tuner levels, if you need to do impedance matching, etc.

6 Daren Redekopp September 19, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Very nicely done indeed. Now I want to see one of those massive fridge-sized radios converted!

7 Jack September 19, 2011 at 5:12 pm

I second the motion–show how to hook up the tube amp. I know it should be easy, but what about hooking up an iPhone cradle to play music and charge? Any plans to show how to do that?

8 Rodrigovk September 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm

What a surprise!

I did that a while ago, and documented the whole process. You can see it here:
http://www.slideshare.net/rodrigo_saxplr/modding-and-antique-radio

I just changed the entire sound system, because sound quality is as important as style.

9 Alex September 19, 2011 at 5:29 pm

One minor suggestion to make this even nicer:

Disconnect the power cord from the old power supply, and attach a cord end to it.
Then you can simply plug the wall-wort 12v power supply into the old cord (if it is in good shape still), and tuck it into the case, just leaving the original cord to plug in.

I might also use a headphone extension cord to connect to the new amp, and then just run it out the rear of the radio. Then you can have it sitting in a handy place to attach your patch cord, and not need to access the rear of the radio at all, while still having a female connection.

10 ecomamacita September 19, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Hellz ya! You gentlemen rock for posting this classy DIY. I’m inspired…going to set up my sweet wi-fi system for some smooth plug-n-play!

11 Bill B. September 19, 2011 at 6:20 pm

I did a similar project to attach my Commodore 64 to my Grundig Majestic. It rocked Frogger!

12 Brandon September 19, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Save yourself some time and restore the radio, keep it classy: buy an inexpensive FM broadcaster- like the kind you use in a car. I have one for my laptop and I listen to “The Whistler” and other radio shows from the 1930s in my garage on an old tube radio. I don’t want my iPod or laptop in the garage- that’s unwinding time, not check my email time.

13 Robert H. September 19, 2011 at 6:59 pm

I’m working on a similar project, but I need to find the right radio first. Part of the problem is that since I’m going to be gutting the cabinet and replacing the old paper speakers. I have too much respect for vintage tech to do that to an otherwise serviceable radio. The plan is to put in good speakers, a simple stereo amp, and an Apple Airport Express. That way I can use it as a wireless speaker for iTunes, and listen to my classic radio dramas and lounge music in style.

14 Turningcog September 19, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Look on http://www.blog/makezine.com or instructables.com for more complete information on soldering or other DIY problems you come across

15 Chris September 19, 2011 at 8:26 pm

I am in no way affiliated so this is not some marketing scheme- but I am a big fan. The iPhone has an app called 1920s radio. It plays music from the 20s through the 40s and is a a real radio station located in WV. The commercials are all throwbacks from the era are very few and far between but add a nice touch. Check out their website where they also have an old time radio show station. These are all the old noir detective, western, and adventure 30 minute shows that people use to listen to around the radio before they had TV. The website also has a schedule for the shows that play at the same time everyday. http://www.the1920snetwork.com/

16 Joshua September 19, 2011 at 9:02 pm

I’m a longtime reader and hate to leave a negative post here, but reading this post is really painful. First off, encouraging people that don’t know what a potentiometer is and how to wire it properly to poke around in a vintage tube amp is asinine. Tube amps run on high voltages (many are over 400V) and can store the power long after they are turned off and unplugged. Second, maybe this entire article is lost on me but I actually enjoy some form of audio quality without excessive distortion and fidelity loss. The LM386 power amp is absolute garbage for this scenario. For the same price you can pick up a MUCH more powerful amplifier, fully assembled and in a casing, with much better audio quality. The Lepai Tripath TA2020 is a great option if you want your amp to sound better than $5 computer speakers. Same goes for using that 2″ speaker for $4; why would you ever want your music to be played through stuff that sounds worse than what was used to play music 70 years ago?

17 Jeremy Neiman September 19, 2011 at 9:13 pm

What a coincidence (and perfect timing)! My sister picked up a huge old radio from a yard sale yesterday and I suggested that “she” do this.

18 Dan Grabowski September 19, 2011 at 9:35 pm

I would really like to see how you use the old amp for sound. It would definitely be great quality sound. I don’t judge fans of the new versions of amplifiers, but the old ones have a superior sound quality. This was a really cool project.

19 JeffC September 19, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Josh, I’m sure the reason Brett had to kludge this article together was because he didn’t receive the clearly-written, clear of techno-babble, concise, illustrated-with-pictures article that you submitted to fill this space. Without your much superior article, he had no option but to try to do it himself. Whatta ‘ya gonna do, huh?

20 Brian September 19, 2011 at 11:01 pm

It seems, as of late, that I can’t get enough of the idea of modding old hardware for new use. I’ve had several ideas for projects, but just don’t have the money necessary right now. This one looks very interesting. I’ll add it to the list of future projects. :)

I’d love to see a post about how to make use of the tube amp. I’d also be interested in seeing more posts like this on AoM.

21 Daniel Harding September 20, 2011 at 12:15 am

Correct me if I am wrong, but if you used the amp that Joshua is suggesting, you would not be able to hook it up to the volume knobs and such. Which would take much of the fun out of it. All you’d be left with is an expensive, albeit good-looking, amp case.

22 Milos September 20, 2011 at 1:52 am

Forgive me for sounding harsh, but this is quite tasteless. You should, as Brandon said, buy yourself an inexpensive FM broadcaster and leave the radio as it is.

23 Matthew September 20, 2011 at 3:34 am

You need to remember that the capacitors on these old tube amps will hold a lethal charge even when turned off and unplugged. Always drain the filter caps before poking around in a tube amp!!!

24 Danny September 20, 2011 at 4:18 am

I’ll probably end up destroying the radio or electrocuting myself but I want to try this because this looks super sweet!

25 newswede September 20, 2011 at 5:12 am

I’m glad Matthew reminded everyone that tube amps (as well as CRT TVs) can be pretty dangerous to work on. As a side note, in many cases these old tube radios can be like gold to the right collector (Ebay etc…). Some have historical value, but Many can be converted to great to great guitar/harmonica amps. You can find many that are real close to the original Fender Champ schematic. In addition, some of the components (the tubes mainly but sometimes the tone caps, speaker and transformers) can catch a pretty dollar. If you’re not a handy man, sell it and buy a modern stereo dock and take your loved one out for dinner.

26 Matt Moore September 20, 2011 at 5:40 am

I’ve never commented on AoM before… But I just had to say MORE LIKE THIS. Manly tutorials might seem like hit or miss sometimes but I bet AoM will get more subscriptions from those looking for How-Tos on related subjects (then finding themselves intrigued by the glory of this periodical). Love it! I have a really interesting old radio engineered by someone truly passionate. It’s mostly mechanical… Talk about your manly radio. Good job.

27 Flood September 20, 2011 at 6:26 am

+1 on keeping vintage tech as original as possible. But there’s an even simpler option. Many bigger old radios – at least from the ’50s – have actual line in plugs for attaching reel-to-reel tape players. European models mostly used a so-called DIN connector and adapter cables from DIN to iPhone/headphone jacks are available on Amazon for a few bucks.

I use my iPhone on a 1950′s Braun cabinet and here’s a pic from the phone on a ’60s His Master’s voice travel radio:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/3720570/HMV_iPhone.jpg

28 will September 20, 2011 at 7:13 am

…flux capacitor? great article. this will show my wife that all men like tinkering, not just me.

29 Travis September 20, 2011 at 8:26 am

Joshua-

Wouldn’t your suggestion on using the Lepai Tripath TA2020 eliminate the use of the actual radio knob to turn the volume up or down? If you did it your way, you’d have to turn the volume up and down from the amp itself. Which would mean you’d have to stick your hand around the back of the radio anytime you wanted to change the volume.

I think the big appeal with this mod is the fact that you can turn the volume up and down with the actual radio knob.

30 Jordan September 20, 2011 at 11:48 am

I have an old RCA record player, the speaker is getting weak on it, I think there’s a loose wire in there somewhere, but I was thinking of modifying it so that I can still play records, but also plug in an mp3 player. I was also thinking of putting in new speakers for better sound quality. You think that could be done? I think it might even already have an audio input on it. It’s from the early 60′s.

31 Gary September 20, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m not sure if the workaround some people are suggesting would work using an FM transmitter to pipe your music through the radio. Most old radios only have AM bandwidth. So how would an FM transmitter work?

Also, even if the radio had FM bandwidth capabilities, it would be rendered useless if the radio itself doesn’t work.

32 Jon September 20, 2011 at 12:28 pm

I would love to see most posts like this. I am not very much interested in trying something like this myself. Being a complete noob to a project like this, is there some place where I could get more information on the type of sodering gun needed, basic instructions on sodering, and how to drain the charge out of the radio? Information like this would be helpful to people like me who are interested in trying this but have no idea what we are doing.

I look forward to seeing more projects like this.

33 adam September 20, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Correct me if I’m wrong: Aren’t all the mods done in this tutorial completely reversible? That is, you aren’t really destroying a vintage radio; it can be returned to original configuration by just reconnecting wires?

34 Fritz September 20, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Very cool idea. Love the way you guys Showed every step. Makes me want to go out and find and old timey radio…..Oh and buy and iPod too.

35 John Hosie September 20, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Come on!!! Sticky tape???

First of all, the “manly” way of referring to that kind of take in the workplace is “Manager Tape”, or just “MT” for short. Both terms have very significant meaning. We call it “Manager Tape” because it is two-faced.

What is the meaning behind “MT”? Well, think about it. I’ll leave that to you.

Second thing I wanted to mention is that the modern way of doing the sort of thing you’re doing with the Manager Tape is to use Velcro. There’s even a very inexpensive flavor of it that I pickup in the garden section of the Home Depot that can be used if you just want to find a place you can poke the velcro through so you can wrap the board into place. It’s sort of a micro-velcro with a very fuzzy bottom side, and nearly microscopic hooks on the top side. Very cool stuff. We use it to wrap copper network data cables into bundles, manage power cables or storage network fibre cables. It even works real well to attach a power strip temporarily in the back of a server rack while you’re waiting to get the power supply somebody forgot to order.

And best of all, unlike the manager tape and standard do-it-yourselfer Velcro, you don’t have the glue that makes them sticky to get warm, soften, and cause your devices to fall. I mean, I tried both manager tape and velcro tape to attach a network switch to the underside of my desk in the office so I could attach multiple devices, but the small amount of heat generated by your typical LinkSys 4-port or 8-port switch caused the tape to lose its effectiveness. The Velcro held, but the glue didn’t.

I also use it for bonsai. The “official” Japanese way to do bonsai is to use fat aluminum wire to wrap around a branch and then bend it to the shape you want it. Instead, I use this micro-Velcro to connect the branches and trunks of small trees to BBQ skewers or bamboo stakes and get them bending whichever way I like. Also very cool.

Manly? Well, there really are two sides to that. First is that the manly thing to do is to use a 4×4 anyplace a 2×3 would do. But the second predominant rule of manliness is that once you find one way to use a new, neat toy, use the toy anyplace else you can adapt it to, even if it is harder, more expensive, and more time consuming to do so. So even though I would have used my last new toy, Gorilla Glue, to attach that board inside the radio cabinet, today I would have to find a way to use micro-Velcro to do the same job, no matter what the practicality of it might be.

Now, just in case there are trademark police out there, Velcro and Gorilla Glue are both trademarks of some sort owned by their respective manufacturers, and micro-Velcro is a hybrid term I invented to describe the stuff.

By the way, since I discovered the stuff, I am constantly finding little lint-covered balls of the stuff in my pockets because any time I make adjustments in my usage of the stuff, I’m rolling the left over pieces into little tube, and pocketing them until I need them again. All it takes is a little lint-picking and they’re good as new for the next application I come up with.

You might not consider lint-picking to be a manly attribute, and if you’re plucking it off your boss’s jacket, it really isn’t. But I equate this more with picking lint off a cough drop or hard candy that you find in the glove compartment. It’s still good enough until its gone…

36 Brett McKay September 20, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Thanks for the great comments everyone!

First, a big thank you to J.W. Koebel for pointing out that this mod works only with permanent magnet speakers. I’ve made note of that in the main body of the post.

Several people have suggested that instead of adding a new amp, you should just leave the radio alone, and use an FM transmitter for your iPod and pipe your music through an FM station. This solution has two problems. First, many old-time radios only have AM capability. While commercially available since the 1940s, FM didn’t become standard until the early 60s. If you get a radio from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, it’s likely it only has AM. FM transmitter is a no-go.

Even if you find an old radio that has FM capability, many times old radios are simply broken. Of course, you could restore it, but that can take some serious know-how, time, and money. If you’re looking for a simple way to get music piping through your old radio, adding a newer and smaller amp is the way to go.

Others have suggested, like Joshua, that you should just buy a fully assembled, encased amp for this project. You can definitely do that! Like we said at the beginning of the post, there’s no set amp you need to use. Ryan’s amp is nice because it doesn’t take up too much room. Just stick on the side of the cabinet.

I wanted to leave the old-tube amp in the radio (even though we weren’t going to use it) to give the radio some heft and because tube amps look cool. So that’s why we went with just the board. You can find some pretty small encased amps that wouldn’t take up too much room, but a board definitely takes up less space than a boxed amp.

I also wanted to be able to control the volume from the radio knob itself. Encased amps often have their own volume controls. Of course, you can always open up an encased amp and do the similar wiring with the potentiometer as we demonstrated in the tutorial. Using the board just saves a step.

Bottom line: use whatever amp you want.

BTW, Josh, I don’t think it’s asinine to encourage people to try DIY projects. I expect people around here to be adults and use appropriate caution when dealing with electrical parts. Sheesh.

Milos- Care to explain why this demo is tasteless? Dead baby and Helen Keller jokes are tasteless. Modding a vintage radio so it can play your iPod? Not so much.

It seems you’re fetishizing this radio simply because it’s old or vintage. It’s just an old radio. Sure, it has a nice case, but it’s an old, broken radio nonetheless.

We turned an old, broken radio and gave it new life. I’m sure Philo Farnsworth would be proud.

John- A 631 word long comment on the proper terminology of double sided sticky tape and pros and cons of velcro vs. double sided tape? Does your boss know what you’re doing with your time?

37 Brett McKay September 20, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Adam-

You are correct. This is completely reversible.

38 John Hosie September 20, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Brett,
It has been suggested in the past that I get a little wordy at times. Answering a yes/no question often starts with a justification of the response. I think it is a byproduct of attention deficit and excess caffeine.

In this case, my tongue was so far into my cheek most of the time that I am still drying my shirt from all the druel I ended up choking on because I couldn’t swallow! Granted, dry humor tends to go over some people’s heads… (Would you call this wet humor?) Well, I’m sorry if I offended, confused, or otherwise caused discomfort to anyone. I figured with the results of your Mr. Manly photo contest you might be open to it. Maybe not?

In the warmth of the radio, how long does your sticky tape last? What would be the results if (heaven forbid) it didn’t hold?

My boss understands “Manager Tape”, as have bosses in the past. He also understands my opinions on many other related things – such as the fact that software system managers are just like living ones – they do nothing, monitor, and report.

I’m on a conference call where I need to stay conscious of the conversation so I can contribute when asked, but I burn extra compute cycles in ways that keep me from falling asleep from boredom. We used to refer to this sort of thing as a “JAFO” responsibility, as I’m just one of several observers who is on the call in case there is something I can answer.

I really like reading your articles, and get a tremendous amount of satisfaction out of forwarding them on to friends and relatives. You’ve got a really good idea with great material. I’m learning from it daily, and hopefully, my four kids will start to pick up a bit, too. (My daughter, to tell you the truth, objected to start with because she is a daughter and doesn’t think of herself as manly…but when she saw that, regardless of the name of the web site, the information is really useful to a single young woman in her mid-20′son her own, too.)

39 John Hosie September 20, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Sorry. It should be “but then she saw…” in the last sentence…

…and I forgot to mention the sugar, in addition to the caffeine and ADD.

40 Kathy September 20, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Great post. I have a few vintage radios and love hearing my music on the hum of the old tube amps. As pointed out- these old ones only get AM radio (and shortwave often) but you can get an AM Transmitter that works well. They sell a kit at Ramsey Electronics for about $45 (with the wall plug). It lets you solder components without the possibility of wrecking the radio (or electrocuting yourself). No connection to the radio at all- just a wire antenna to transmit at a particular AM frequency that the old AM radio should be able to pick up. The transmitter plugs into the output of the stereo (or iPhone) & transmits to any AM radio nearby (but they must be close). Works beautifully and no one even suspects that the Ella Fitzgerald coming out of the 1940′s floor model Silvertone is really playing on my Kenwood CD rack system (plugged into the AM transmitter)!

41 Craig September 20, 2011 at 8:53 pm

I actually stopped at an antique store on the way home from work to do this mod for a couple reasons. I have an old 1966 camp trailer that I’m working on, and the little working Zenith bakelite radio I picked up ($25) is gonna work great for it. By having the ability to pipe my iPod (or iPhone with 1920sRadio app) through it, it will see much more use than if I left it AM only. So thanks guys, ordering my amp tonight. And when I work on it, I will research how to discharge the tubes and make it safe as can be.

42 Mike Key September 21, 2011 at 2:21 am

Great mod and article. I actually recently picked up a 1967 Zenith X930 console which has a tape jack. I’m converting it using a donor router to be able to play music via AirPlay from my Mac & iPhone.

43 The Dutch Dastard September 21, 2011 at 4:59 am

Hooray for McKay!

Nice article, and nice comment in between……ouch!

44 Milos September 21, 2011 at 8:45 am

Brett, thanks for responding. Let me try to explain :)
First, I’m not fetishizing anything. I do love and respect classic, though not just because it’s classic but because someone invented it, someone constructed it and someone put the whole thing together, so it has it’s own history and stories to tell, especially when it dates back to times when things were not just cheap disposable gadgets… Finally, someone paid for it much more than any Iphone costs now, and it probably ment much more to them then any of our gadgets mean to us now, in our consumerism era. So these things, at least, deserve to “die” with some dignity.
Yet, it is not a reason why I said this is tasteless.
I think it’s tasteles because, while there are a lot of new modern speakers to buy, you will listen to relatively bad sound coming from an outdated and outworn speaker, and why – just for the looks of it. Not for the music, not because of any practicallity and definitelly not because there’s no other option.
Finally, that is not “giving new life to it”, you’re just tearing it’s guts out and converting it into a kitschy piece of crap. Same as it would be if you took an old cuckoo clock and stuffed it with chinese quartz mechanism.

45 The Dutch Dastard September 21, 2011 at 10:42 am

Milos

Have you ever considered the option that some people actually LIKE lesser quality sound? Sure, if i’m going to watch a movie i want it as real as possible. But if i’m listening to the Duke, or the Beatles, i really enjoy the fact that it more or less sounds as it would have sounded then……

46 Matt Vann September 21, 2011 at 11:07 am

Thanks for a great article! There’s yet another way to do this: buy an AM transmitter kit and broadcast your music from any source! These are completely legal and with some work can be turned into a micro-broadcasting station covering your neighborhood! It sounds great, even better than a line into the amp section. Kits range in cost from $25 and up. I chose the SSTRAN AM3000 which was one of the highest rated amps and wasn’t disappointed. Using a transmitter requires NO modification to the radio.

47 Brandon September 22, 2011 at 1:09 am

Wait, it’s better to throw a product away and “let it die with dignity” then to change it into something useful??

That has to be in the running for one of the least manly comments ever posted on this site!

I hope Milos wanders over to the Grandpa’s Finances post, particularly the “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” section. This is EXACTLY the kind of thing the buyers of the original radios would have done.

I’m flabbergasted–i need to go to bed.

48 Buster September 22, 2011 at 7:22 am

This might be the first AoM article that I didn’t finish reading. I think I’m with Milos on this one. Not everything vintage is worth messing with. Explain to me why you want to spend $75 to do something like this? Not to mention the time. You could use that time to talk to your wife or play with your kids.

49 Brigette September 22, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Awesome idea! My boyfriend sells mid century modern furniture and did something similar to a credenza. So cool to have modern music coming out of an antique.

50 Man cave September 23, 2011 at 4:23 pm

This is a great modification. I’ve seen something similar for small older jukeboxes. This would be a great idea for someone’s man cave. I bet the sound would be so cool coming through the old speakers and tubes.

51 Cheesehed September 24, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Maybe I missed it, but how are making the transition from stereo to mono?? Are you summing it somewhere and I missed it?? Great idea tho.

52 Robin September 24, 2011 at 5:15 pm

I’m a female whom loves electronics and I want to try this project. Where can a buy a vintage radio for cheap without having to bid on ebay? I mean I will if I have to, but would like to eliminate shipping and handling charges. Thanks for the help!

53 Lee September 24, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Hey Robin, Try Craigslist or google for a local antique radio club.
Good luck with your project….Lee

54 Frank September 25, 2011 at 4:43 am

Most of those portable and console radios from 1937 to the 1950′s had an RCA audio input jack on the back so you could use the amplifier of the radio to play your record player or accessory through it. All the parts for these radios such as tubes are available at Antique Electronic Supply http://www.tubesandmore.com/. if you repair the radio and utilize the vacuum tube circuitry you will learn to appreciate the unique vacuum tube sound that is so beloved by musicians! The large electrodynamic speakers from the 1930′s had their own beautiful sound. Once you have determined that all the tubes are good or which ones need replacing, you will need to get a schematic diagram. Most of these can be gotten in libraries or the internet and are in the Riders manuals for American radios and RCC manuals for Canadian radios. Your local antique radio club will be happy to help you with information on how to repair your radio. All the capacitors will need replacing to get good sound and all the resistors will need to be checked to see that they haven’t changed value too much. If they are more than 10 or 20 percent off their design value, replace them. Replace the cord with a modern plastic one and check and recheck your work. You now will have a nice vintage amplifier with a unique sound and the added bonus is that you can use it as an AM radio too!

55 Tom September 26, 2011 at 12:22 am

People wondering about the transition from our stereo mp3 source to mono, single speaker old timey radio need not worry.

Standard 1/4″ stereo jacks have 3 contacts, left and right channel, and ground at the base. if you short the left and right channel together they combine, the signals mix. So, converting a stereo signal to a mono signal is as simple as plugging a male 1/4″ stereo plug into a female 1/4″ mono jack. That shorting takes place inside the female jack, so no worries.

I can’t tell if the modern amp in this tutorial uses a mono female jack or not, but because there’s only one speaker output, I’ll assume its mono.

Regardless it works. Another option would be to take some old bluetooth headphones, take out the bluetooth module and connect the audio to the tube amp (or modern amp).

56 caleb September 26, 2011 at 10:13 am

Great post. I wish I still had one sitting around. When I did, it was borrowed, so wouldn’t have worked anyway :)

Just because something is old, rare, or formerly expensive, it does not mean that it is worth anything now. And too many people keep worthless junk around without ever using it (watch Pawn Stars and American Pickers if you doubt this).

Either use it, make it useable, or get rid of it. Don’t just take up space.

Great use while preserving the original! In case you later find out it is valuable.

57 Vince September 29, 2011 at 3:31 pm

There’s also the cheater’s method: assuming that your old-time radio is still functional as a radio, you can buy a radio frequency transmitter off e-bay that plugs conveniently into your ipod/iphone and turns any radio into a speaker system for your tunes. Be sure to check for compatibility with regards to frequency range first!

58 Justin September 30, 2011 at 1:05 am

This is perfect! I’ve been wanting to do this for ages but never got around to it. In fact, I never even thought about reusing the old speakers, my plan was just to gut it and replace the internals with new electronics. Thanks for sharing this.

59 Leonardo October 1, 2011 at 3:28 pm

I wonder how troublesome would it be to have it for USB’s too…

60 Dangermouse October 5, 2011 at 12:36 am

That is a sweet little mod! But I wanted to add, as someone who builds tube amps, that you should be extremely careful messing around with the guts of the amplifier. Nothing in this mod is dangerous in and of itself, but if you plug the radio in to ‘test’ the speaker before you work, you could be exposing yourself to fatal voltages. Even an un-plugged radio could be holding power in its capacitors–tube amps run at an excess of 400 volts, and you cannot trust old electronics to be in safe working order.

A simple 9 volt battery test will tell you if the speaker works or not–connect the two speaker wires to the battery; if the cone moves, it works.

61 Travis October 5, 2011 at 3:22 am

I can’t wait to make a few of these. What does everyone think these things would be worth after completed?

62 robert Hoffman October 7, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Not that that isn’t extremely impressive, but wouldn’t it just be simpler to replace the guts of the radio with a speaker that is already set up to connect to an MP3 player?

63 Rich K. October 8, 2011 at 3:05 pm

I collect antique radios, so I hate to see them altered any more than necessary to make them work again (like replacing old paper and electrolytic capacitors with modern ones, as these parts go bad with age). I use an AM transmitter that I built from a kit sold by Antique Electronic Supply to play old-time radio shows and music through my antique radios, via an inexpensive CD player from Wal-Mart. An MP3 player could also be used as an input source. Just tune the radio to a “blank spot” on the band, adjust the tuning slug on the transmitter to the same frequency with the tool supplied with the kit, and you’re in business.

64 Allison October 10, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Hello! I’m having trouble locating the potentiometer on my radio. Here’s a link to the type of radio I have – I don’t have access to the schematic. Any chance someone could locate the potentiometer on here? I don’t want to disconnect the wrong thing.
http://www.radiomuseum.org/r/crosley_52tf_52_tf_76.html

65 DJ Manlyman October 15, 2011 at 1:55 am

Buying one of those battery powered ipod car stereo adaptors saves you both time and effort, and then you can brag that your ancient radio is 100% original parts.

66 David September 28, 2012 at 7:02 pm

I have a 1930 Philco Cathedral radio that I’d love to be able to play cassette/CD’s of old radio programs through. It works but there’s nothing worth listening to on AM anymore. I don’t have an ipod and don’t need one being an old timer but have other sources like a cassette player(s) and CD player.

How much trouble would it be for me to be able to do this? I can solder, replace resistors, capacitors, etc as that’s what I did (along with tube replacement) to get the Philco to play. It’s got a large speaker but not sure if it’s the permanent magnet type or not.

thanks

67 Adam October 16, 2012 at 3:53 pm

This mod only partially worked for me. It plays, but the volume cannot be adjusted through the pot, and if the song stops, or if my ipod is removed from the jack, a loud buzzing starts… help?

68 A.M. November 17, 2012 at 6:34 am
69 joe tha red November 28, 2012 at 11:45 am

I’d like to put the ipod right inside the radio, but i don’t see a way to get an ipod to play once it is powered up. ideally you could rig the power to turn the ipod on, and then the volume would work as described above. I guess I could just put a shuffle inside with some sticky tape and leave it on shuffle. turning the volume all the way down would be “off”.

I just wish there was a way to power it on and off with another knob. Any ideas?

70 chip December 6, 2012 at 2:08 pm

anybody done this with a bluetooth receiver in the radio? I was going to try and figure that out over Christmas.

71 Bret December 12, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Why does the cap for the volume pot have to be removed? Does the original radio have to be plugged in in order for the volume pot to control the volume of the amp board?

72 Doug January 1, 2013 at 9:24 am

OK, OK – Those of us who DO restore tube radios are aware that there are various radios going back to at least the ’30s that allowed playing record players through the radio’s amplifier (mostly the bid consoles), radios from at least the late ’40s on into the ’60s that had input jacks to allow using the radio’s amplifier to take input from record and tape players, and various current designs to hook up an MP3 player, iPhone, etc. to the original radio’s amplifier. That being said, I’m always interested in seeing someone else’s design approach, since there’s usually more than one way to accomplish the same end. After all of preceding innumerable replies, when do we get to see your brother-in-laws “hard way” design for using the radio’s original amplifier and speaker?

73 Callum January 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Hey this is great but I would like to make use of the old amplifier rather than just put a new one in as the valves sound so much better. Has anybody bluetoothed one yet like this?

Anybody done this yet please send through the link???

74 Tommy January 23, 2013 at 11:14 am

There needs to be more info in this mod. There are 5 leads coming out of the pot, shouldn’t you cut all of them to isolate the switch (pot)?

75 Matt February 20, 2013 at 1:07 am

I am highly interested in doing the mod the hard way. I have a college buddy who is an EE senior so it should be rather simple if I need help but I’d like to see a how to on using the original tube amp.

76 Dave June 18, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Love the idea and am going into google overload to learn more. Is there anyway to keep the “old time radio sound”? I’d love to listen to baseball games or old music and have it sound like the 1930s.

77 ian June 25, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Absolutely top idea. I’ve done the same with some early transistor radios (or rather another bloke with the right knowledge did) , including a Roberts RT1 and Hacker Mini Herald (check out the images online they may not have sold in the U.S.). The Hacker radios sound far superior to many modern docks too.

78 Benjamin August 1, 2013 at 5:06 am

I also would like to wire the amp “the hard way” and would like more information or instruction as to how to do this as I’d like to incorporate the Values into the sound to keep the warmth can any one help.

79 Jack Crow September 12, 2013 at 11:41 am

This is absolutely fantastic! I have been thinking about whether or not it would be possible to do this to my grandfather’s old Philco, a 34″ high freestanding radio, and an old family Victrola. Thanks for posting this

80 Julie October 9, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Hi! I’d like to try this but I have concerns about the safety of removing the tubes? Could you give us instructions about the safe way to remove these in order to avoid the “fatal” amounts of electricity others have referred to in their comments? Thanks!

81 HARJAP SINGH AUJLA November 16, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Antique radios have all along been fascinating me. I bought the replica of German radio GRUNDIG CLASSIC 960. It is my prized possession. Every thing is new except the shape and the wood cabinet.

82 bob December 10, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Real men would fix the tube radio and build an AM transmitter. You ruined a beautiful piece of history.

83 Tristan December 14, 2013 at 10:21 pm

I worked this MOD and got an old german built radio from the 50′s working but the sound quality is a very poor and while essential to the circuit, the volume control isn’t working… anyone had similar issues?

This is most certainly due to my lack of technical expertise, not the article procedure.

84 Aindriu Macfehin February 15, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Awesome! I would also be interested in the other mod as well. Thank you. A

85 laurids March 11, 2014 at 6:56 am

hen there! nice project! i´m working on something like this too but i want to use a raspberry pi like this guy (http://www.raspberrypi.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=40&t=24467). but i like the way you did your project and i want to try that too. i just need some advice considering the amplifier board. can i use something like this (http://www.ebay.de/itm/350593268528?ssPageName=STRK:MEWAX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1423.l2649) or even a board with bluetooth (http://www.ebay.de/itm/350855254113?ssPageName=STRK:MEWAX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1423.l2649)? just like that you’re able to control with the original buttons and i want to try that too.

greetings, L.

86 mike March 13, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Hi there, just finished this project. I’m a bit of an old soul and love antiques but love the tech too. What a wonderful way to mix both! I’ve never soldered before and I’m happy to say that everything worked the first time (I was worried the speaker was broken) it sounds awesome. Tired Neil Young First and then some old time radio shows. My daughter was surprised to hear that they listened to the radio instead of TV. So a good lesson for the young kids as well. Thank you so much for the instructions and the amplifier.

87 Marty Klein April 7, 2014 at 9:57 pm

Thank you for showing me an idea can become reality. Wonder why the Internet brings out such bitter hatred for no reason. Can you ask Ryan if this can be done with a handheld 9V transistor radio? Thanks. v/r, Marty

88 Ross April 10, 2014 at 10:18 pm

Good stuff, I want to attempt this with a couple of pld radios that are beyond repair, however the cabinet still looks cool.
Can someone help me with sizing the speaker with the amp.
I. E. 4 or 6″ speaker using a small amp say 5 to 15 watts
How many amps was the one in this project?

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