Console radio given new life with a WiFi router retrofit

tube-radio-wifi-router-retrofit

[Craig] did a great job of restoring the case of his antique console radio. But he wanted to bring the guts up to modern standards. The fix ended up being rather easy when it comes to hardware. He based his internet radio retrofit around a wireless router.

We laughed when we heard that he removed about eighty pounds of original electronics from this beast. He then cut a piece of MDF to serve as a mounting platform for the replacement hardware. The WiFi router takes care of audio playback from several sources and offers him the ability to control the stereo from a smart phone or a computer. It has a USB port to which he connected a hub to make room for the USB sound card and a thumb drive which holds his music library. The black box in the upper right is an amp which feeds the NHT stereo speakers housed in the lower half of the cabinet.

It doesn’t make use of the original knobs like the recent tube-amp conversion we looked at. But [Craig] did add some LEDs which illuminate the dial to help keep that stock look.

21 thoughts on “Console radio given new life with a WiFi router retrofit

  1. I’m not one of those folks who will give him a hard time about gutting the radio… but can I have the old guts please? :P

  2. Egads! This would have been a perfect project to use a RasPi and a cheap 7″ LCD to make a very cool “retro/steampunky” setup. you could even replace the knobs with rotary encoders and buttons to make them all functional.

  3. To each his own. My sensibilities are different.

    Suppose you had a beautiful old walnut grandfather clock in the family, handed down from generation to generation. Then you get it, tear out the face and guts, and install a digital clock from Radio Shack. No more noise, no more winding, and the time accuracy is now two orders of magnitude better. You’ve “improved” it, right? Perhaps… but in my book, you’ve all but destroyed your “heirloom”.

    Don’t get me wrong, I actually like projects that fuse vintage to contemporary hardware. A winning-the-lotto fantasy of mine has always been to find a rusty old Model A body someplace and have it fused to the underpinnings of a modern vehicle. You get the retro styling and curb appeal, with all the benefits of modern engines, steering, and brakes. But I would never dream of dismantling or destroying an otherwise complete Model A, no matter what it’s condition, in order to accomplish this.

    A better hack, in my opinion, would have been to recap the existing electronics to render the amplifier functional. Then, mount all of the wifi stuff inside the speaker cabinet. Wire the output of the player to the input of the amp. That way, you get to enjoy vintage tube sound (some of these old consoles had remarkable tone, despite being mono) while at the same time enjoying modern connectivity and content. Most importantly, the “heirloom” remains an “heirloom” because nothing you’ve done cannot be easily reversed.

    1. I did that last hack with my Radio-4-Matic – tracing audio signals in a 1970s transistor radio so that I could inject a new signal from a Raspberry Pi. So easy that it felt like cheating – plus it sounds fantastic. And fully reversible in ten minutes or so.

  4. There is two ways to look at it you could let it rot in a basement with its original electronics (most likely to be throw out latter) or give it new life in a very functional way.

    That said a restored radio that is only analog will problem have no stations to pick up when analog is replaced with digital. ofc you could use a short range transmitter then your own audio source like a set top box for a radio ;)

  5. I sincerely believe that this “trend” of gutting cool old tube radios and replacing tubes with modern consumer trash can be traced back to one thing. The people doing these “conversions” are chickens###. Yes, that’s right, too “skeered” by the thought of “evil high voltage” and too chicken (and too lazy) to actually learn how the original tube circuits work.

    Often times when an old radio is in that good of physical shape, all that’s needed electronically to bring them back to 100% working condition are some new filter capacitors in the power supply section, maybe a $5 investment.

    (Yes, they were designed to run on 110 VAC and what comes out of the wall today might be closer to 130, but there are ways around this, including just ignoring the fact in particular cases)

    Sure, there’s nothing to listen to on the AM broadcast band any more, but anything more deluxe than the basic table radio certainly has shortwave receiving capability (this console clearly did) which could provide hours of fascinating listening and exploration, vs. whatever pop music cr4p gets pumped through it now.

    I won’t even get into the addictive charm of the tube “sound” and the tube “smell.”

    A restored original could be resold for a LOT more money than a hacked abomination.
    Many of these larger console radios cost a small fortune when new. What kind of a nutjob would rip the perfectly good hemi out of a ’55 Desoto Firedome and put in a 4-cyl vTec??? The deed is equally heinous in my opinion.

    Now, with all that being said, I’d encourage the “hacking” of a beater “All American Five” table radio, as there were several millions of those things produced, they’ll only receive AM broadcast, they have a hot chassis and thus are a shock hazard to the inexperienced. If someone is h377-bent on cutting up an old radio, please let it be one of these. But if anybody else comes across a higher-end radio console, especially when the “furniture” is in awesome condition, Please consider the following options: A.) Be content to enjoy it as a static display. (admittedly lame) B.) Learn how it works and restore it to operational status. (The path to electronic rockstardom) or C.) Sell it to a collector and enjoy the profit.

    Anyone interested in learning to restore tube radios needs only modest equipment: A Variac (auto-transformer) and an isolation transformer. Getting fancier, a vintage Vacuum Tube Voltmeter, which would be a fun and easy restoration project in of itself. These three items can be obtained inexpensively at a swap meet or hamfest. Heck, the isolation transformer can be home-brewed from junk. Let your search engine be your teacher.

      1. By “cardboard and tar,” you’re describing the failed electrolytics that need replacing in most every old piece of tube equipment. If you can only follow a circuit in 2 dimensions on a PCB, and not 3 dimensions on a point-to-point-wired chassis, then yes, you’re out of your league in dealing with old tube gear, and should leave it to someone more capable.

        Better yet, expend the effort to learn and understand. There’s a term for when you suddenly are unable to learn new things. Its called “being dead.”

      2. If you can’t follow point-to-wiring well enough to replace 2 lead axial components, you really shouldn’t be anywhere near the internals of a tube radio.

    1. While I didn’t want to say it myself, I do agree with you. It is painful to see such original hardware discarded for cheap modern equivalents, however, there is no mention of the condition of the radio’s insides in the article. Yes, he added a lot of functionality but I wonder if it could have been added to the original electronics to get the best of both worlds?

      Radio 5 Live (909 & 693 MW) is still very popular in the UK, the only proper way to get the footie while driving and no FM equivalent ;)

  6. As I mentioned on my web page for this project, the electronics of this radio were smashed, tubes, coils and various inductors were sheared off on most of the chassis, the tuning capacitor’s plates were bent, the wiring had the wax insulation coming off and the bakelite components were crumbling. In other words this thing was broken beyond my ability to repair even though I’m an electronics engineer. The damage occurred as a result of the power amp getting loose and careening across the radio chassis during shipping. I would have loved to save my Dad’s radio but it wasn’t to be.

    1. I’m sorry to hear of this radio’s misfortune. And yes, after a situation as you describe, the original internals are likely unsalvageable. Bringing it back to life in the manner you did is much better than leaving it as a static display, being as it’s silence would be a constant painful reminder of its destruction. (at least that’s what I’d think!)

      However, I’d really hope that no one would just say “Hey, thats a cool old radio, lets gut it and make it play MP3′s and blink (gawd-awful) blue LEDs!” without at least trying to fix the original components first. These things are pieces of history. Sure, have fun with a piece of junk, or something damaged beyond repair, but wrecking a collectible piece makes less sense than shooting your own toes off.

      As a point of reference, anytime a piece of antique tube gear is to be shipped, expect it to endure the worst treatment imaginable. Open it up, and look for any items that may be loose and secure them. A lot of times, its recommended that the power transformer be removed and shipped separately, as these are notorious for becoming cannonballs during transit. The tubes should also be removed, packed carefully, and shipped separately. Lastly, the empty space space within the cabinet should be filled with wadded up sheets of newspaper, just to keep any other parts prone to movement as still as possible during transit.

      In a “desperate” situation, at the very minimum, everything can be left in place, but the cabinet should still be stuffed with wadded newspaper. It will help keep the tubes, etc. in place, and they are less likely to break should they come loose.

      Ideally, once the unit is boxed up with bubble wrap, peanuts, etc… put that box into a second box, with additional shock-absorbing materials between the two.

  7. If gutted I would prefer that all the knobs are functional, even if for audio control.
    I have 3 gutted 30′s era cases I need to fill. I did not do it, they were all rescues form trash attics etc. One church I did organ repair at had one in one of the kids rooms turned around standing as biblical diorama. I can see Moses parting the waves standing between a pair of 6V6.

  8. I’m really sick of these “you shouldn’t have gutted that piece of history” comments. I did a similar console record player project (featured on hackaday). I probably got a hundred similar comments and when I offered to *give* each of them a second broken cabinet for free, I didn’t get one response.

    There are hundreds of these radios, amps, etc on craigslist at modest cost. If you want to restore them, buy one and do it. Otherwise shut up about how others choose to give a new life to these items.

    1. Put your soldering iron where your mouth is, eh? While I do think that it would have been nice if he had been able to restore the original electronics he did say that they were smashed up in the move, and look at that cabinet, that thing is beautiful and if the electronics were totally destroyed this hack was mandatory because throwing that cabinet would have been a crime against wooodworking.

  9. Tangenting wildly, it’d be pretty cool, if he ever gets the dials to work, to use them to receive from the wideband SDR receiver featured here on HaD several months ago- http://websdr.ewi.utwente.nl:8901/

    Since the inner four bands on his radio all fit (150-425kHz, 550-1600kHz, 1800-5700kHz, 5.7-18.5MHz) and the last one at least fits a little (17-65MHz out of ~29MHz) I think it’d be a really nice interface.

  10. Quite a cool build! I’m planning on building something similar using the same amplifier and a raspberry pi so this could be quite useful. Looks great!

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