Radio and Phone Speaker has Style

Building a crystal radio isn’t exactly rocket science. Some people who build them go for pushing them technically as far as they can go. Others, like [Billy Cheung], go for style points. The modular radio and phone speaker looks like it came out of the movie Brazil. The metallic gramophone-like speaker horn adds to the appeal and mechanically amplifies the sound, too.

The video (see below) isn’t exactly a how-to, but if you watch to the end there is enough information that you could probably reproduce something at least similar. There are actually several horns. One is made from copper, another from paper, and one from a plastic bottle.

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High Impedance Headphones? They’re In The Can!

[George Trimble] likes to build crystal radios. The original crystal radio builders used high impedance headphones. In modern builds, you are as likely to include a powered amplifier to drive a speaker or normal headphones (which are usually around 4 to 16 ohms).

[George] builds his own speakers using chile cans, some wire, a few magnets, part of a Pepsi can (we are pretty sure someone will leave a comment that Coke cans sound better), and the iron core out of an audio transformer. You can see a very detailed video of the process, below.

There is a little woodworking and hot gluing involved. The result is decidedly homemade looking, but if you want to say you built it yourself (or, if you are a prepper trying to get ready to  rebuild after the apocalypse and you can’t find a cache of headphones) this might be just the ticket.

Most of the headphone hacks we see start with a pair of headphones. That’s a bit tautological, but the goal is usually to add features, not make the whole thing. It does give you some hacker cred, though, to be able to look at the other guy’s radio and say, “Oh. I see you used commercial headphones.”

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High Performance Crystal Radio

When you think of a crystal radio, you probably think of something simple maybe built out of household scraps. Not if you are [Chris Wendling]. He recently posted a video (see below) of his high-performance crystal set. He doesn’t take any shortcuts: he has several hundred feet of antenna wire, and uses a cold-water pipe ground system. With no amplifier, a strong signal input is crucial.

The radio has four subsystems: an antenna tuner, a bandpass filter, a detector, and a powered audio output system. He also has a truly enormous system of speakers on the ceiling–this isn’t the crystal radio you made in the boy scouts.

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PhD Crystal Radio has Pizza Capacitor

Crystal radios are old news, but great fun. What would happen if a PhD designed a crystal set? By PhD we mean Pizza Hut Deliveryperson and [John Greenlee] (who may not actually be a PhD of either kind; we don’t know) gives us a good idea with his crystal radio in a pizza box.

Pizza boxes aren’t the only food-related material in this radio. [John] makes a tuning capacitor out of cake rounds. Coincidentally, he decorates the tuning capacitor to look like a pizza.

The schematic itself is unremarkable–just a common crystal set. But the construction of the chassis and the capacitor make it an interesting project. If you know a young person that has any interest in radio, a crystal receiver is a rite of passage you shouldn’t deny them and this one is certainly a novelty. The picture of a pizza takes it even one step further than this YouTube build, which is nonetheless a good resource.

The instructions are well done, although some of the parts may be slightly hard to find. Germanium diodes and high-Z earphones are not as plentiful as they used to be, although you can still find them if you look.

This pizza box rig could be a gateway drug to more serious crystal radios. Or you could go smaller and try building one in a match box.

Hacking When it Counts: POW Canteen Radios

Of all the horrors visited upon a warrior, being captured by the enemy might count as the worst. With death in combat, the suffering is over, but with internment in a POW camp, untold agonies may await. Tales of torture, starvation, enslavement and indoctrination attend the history of every nation’s prison camps to some degree, even in the recent past with the supposedly civilizing influence of the Hague and Geneva Conventions.

But even the most humanely treated POWs universally suffer from one thing: lack of information. To not know how the war is progressing in your absence is a form of torture in itself, and POWs do whatever they can to get information. Starting in World War II, imprisoned soldiers and sailors familiar with the new field of electronics began using whatever materials they could scrounge and the abundance of time available to them to hack together solutions to the fundamental question, “How goes the war?” This is the story of the life-saving radios some POWs managed to hack together under seemingly impossible conditions.

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Getting Serious about Crystal Radios

The crystal radio is a timeless learning experience, often our first insight into how a radio works. For some of us that childhood fascination never dies. Take for example Jim Cushman, this guy loves to work on vintage scooters, motorcycles, and especially crystal radios (special thanks to fellow coil-winding enthusiast M. Rosen for providing the link). Digging more deeply we find an entire community devoted to crystal radio design. In this article we will get back to basics and study the fundamentals of radio receiver design.

How it works:

A crystal radio is basically a high Q resonator tied to an antenna and an envelope detector. These days the envelope detector is a point contact diode such as a 1N34 Germanium diode.


The resonant circuit passes a specific wavelength (or more specifically range of wavelengths depending on its Q). The diode detector provides the amplitude or envelope of the signal(s) within that wavelength. A high impedance or highly sensitive ear piece converts this envelope to an audible signal that you can listen to.

The neat thing about crystal radios is that no active RF amplification is used. The radio is powered by the incoming radio signal that it is tuned to. More sophisticated crystal sets might have more than one tuned stage, perhaps 3 or 4 to minimize receiver bandwidth for maximum sensitivity and selectivity.

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Do You Know Rufus Turner?

It is hard to be remembered in the electronics business. Edison gets a lot of credit, as does Westinghouse and Tesla. In the radio era, many people know Marconi and de Forest (although fewer remember them every year), but less know about Armstrong or Maxwell. In the solid-state age, we tend to remember people like Shockley (even though there were others) and maybe Esaki.

If you knew most or all of those names without looking them up, you are up on your electronics history. But do you know the name Rufus Turner?
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