Internet Radio Occupies An 80-year-old Radio Case

[Florian Amrhein] made use of some old hardware to build his own internet radio in a 1930’s radio case.

The original hardware is a tube-amplified radio which he picked up on eBay. There’s tons of room in there once he removed the original electronics and that’s a good thing because he crammed a lot of new parts into the build. The main one being an old laptop he had on hand. It’s got a 10″ screen which is too large for the opening, but that ended up being okay. He coded an interface with C and SDL which give him a visual representation of his favorite online streams. The knob to the right moves the red line when turned and causes the Debian box to change to the new stream using the Music Player Daemon. Two potentiometers control the tuning and volume, and there is also a rotary encoder which is not yet in use. All three are connected to the laptop via an Arduino.

Check out the finished product in the video after the break. It sounds quite good thanks to the small automotive speaker and amplifier also crammed into the old case.

If you don’t have a laptop lying around to use in a project like this consider a microcontroller and character LCD based system.

26 thoughts on “Internet Radio Occupies An 80-year-old Radio Case

  1. Radio enthusiasts are probably popping a vein at this. :/

    I’m a little mystified as to why so much effort would be put into something like this but his microcontroller board just has a bunch of wires jammed into the headers. Was no solder harmed in the making of this?

    1. i think there are a lot of projects like this on the internet. I don’t get it either, there must be a lot of otherwise pretty decent makers that just aren’t into soldering.

      Personally I wouldn’t even use an Arduino board in a project. They are great for prototyping but way too expensive. An Atmega328 plus crystal, caps and maybe a regulator (if you need it) are inexpensive to the point of being almost free.

      Oh well. It still turned out nice!

    2. Hi.

      I soldered everything. I just didn’t want to solder the signal directly to the pins of the arduino “shield”, so I would be more flexible when I need to test or modify something.

      I was also thinking about using a bare micro controller chip, without the Arduino platform, but I needed to connect that thing somehow to the laptop, and the only decent input that laptop has is USB. The Arduino prototyping board has everything on it I needed.

      1. After posting I thought that might be the case. If the laptop has an RS-232 port all you would need is a max-232 or, a small handful of discrete components. (

        But then, maybe it isn’t worth the effort when you have the Arduino ready to go. There aren’t really right and wrong answers on that kind of thing, everyone has their own priorities and opinions, your own is what matters most!

    3. I’m an old-radio fanatic, and I think this is a great project. Radio’s of this vintage, even when completely restored are only good for tuning AM (FM didn’t come along until later). So, unless you’ve got some AM stations you’re dying to hear (talk radio, sports, ???), you might as well have a little fun with the case.

      The builder did say in one of the comments that he kept the guts in case he ever decided to do a restore, and he hasn’t altered the case, so putting everything back together would be simple down the line. The display and the interface strike me as something that the designers of the radio might have done if they had the technology of this era at their disposal back then… so, from one radio guy to another radio guy, way to go!

      I like the idea of simulating a magic eye that some of the other commenters suggested… rescale the screen display to leave the top 20% vacant, display a virtual magic eye (or two, or three… you’ve got the space) to display the volume level, audio modulation level (for authenticity), or bitrate of the stream (on a scale of 8k to 320k or whatever endpoints you wish). If you’ve got blank space left, create a vintage looking logo and put it there.

      I see lots of possibilities for this and I commend the builder on his creativity!!!

  2. To give credit where it is due, he set out to do a project, and the end result looks great. I suspect I would have done it differently, but it would probably have taken a whole lot longer…

  3. Some of these old radios are not worth much (according to my friends in the Antique Radio Club). I don’t know about this one but one of our Hackspace members brought in a radio he hacked up. Turned out the radio was of of the dime-a-dozen models from the early 30’s and wasn’t worth much at all. It still looked neat.

    1. In Poland we have completely different perspective. Many radios were destroyed during ww2 (it was forbidden to own one back then). Even original radio/ham radio parts from 1920s and 1930s are quite rare and expensive… What is “not worth much” in America, here is considered real treasure.

  4. Agree- this particular case is nice but not rare or all that special. An idea though- make a gizmo that takes the internet stream and pushes the audio out over a low power AM transmitter. That way, any working radio works. Of course, you lose some of the retrofuturistic appeal this particular hack has, but for nice radios that would be a crying shame to gut, it would be a good compromise.

  5. Hi, I built that thing. No worries: I removed the old electronics carefully and stored them. I also made sure I didn’t destroy anything at the case. So, if at some point I am bored of the radio (I hope I won’t), and I would suddenly get interested in old electronics, I still have the option to restore it to its old state.

    The micro controller is by the way mainly for reading out the information from the rotary encoders which needs good timing. One of them is used for “band” (selecting the different pages of radio stations). And it was just a simple way to read out the data from the potentiometers as well, and send everything in a handy format via USB.

    1. Florian,

      A little backgroud, I’m currently working on a project very similar to this:

      It’s an old Philco radio. The radio itself doesn’t work anymore and the speaker was blown. I replaced the speaker and now I’m using a Raspberry PI. It’s running MPD so it can all be controlled from a laptop / tablet / phone.

      The next step is to implement the knobs. I like the idea of using rotary encoders, like you did. I’d like to use IRQs on the PI, but I haven’t yet figured out how I would do this. The GPIO pins currently require root access, which I don’t want to do. I want the knobs to control MPD so it’s synched across all devices (vs just controlling the volume locally).

      You’ve got a great looking project! And you should be proud!


  6. Nice work, but I’d added the guts of a broadcast receiver. Let the purist get riled up. In the event conservatives(purist) had won the day over the years thee only music we would be listening to is home grown music, not that I’m saying there’s something wrong with home grown music. Besides, if the radio was rare it would have been unaffordable to consider hacking. I have been looking for alternative audio components for my desktop.My first thought was the compact audio components Tadio Shack used to carry, I never thought about car audio components.I do have a pair of dash speakers that never got installed in a pick up I no longer own, now to find an amp..

    1. I appreciate old technology and think it’s sad to see antiques get gutted if they are rare at all. I also appreciate new technology and am very interested in whatever is cutting edge. Why does it have to be all one-way or the other?

      I wouldn’t assume every affordable item is non-rare. It could be the previous owner didn’t know what they had! Especially given all the stuff that gets sold by uninterested family after someone dies or goes to a nursing home… Even on an auction site it’s possible that no collectors happened to be looking that day. How much effort does it take and what does it hurt to do a little Googling, maybe check completed listings, etc?

      I’m not referring to the radio in the article btw. I don’t know anything about that particular radio but enough people here seem to agree it’s common and non-valuable. And.. I think the project is cool!

      So, am I one of your conservative purists? What is ‘home grown music’ anyway?

  7. The original radio being restored instead of this project would be more interesting,but this is better as the radio seems unworthy and he is going to actually use this instead of restore it and shove it somewhere to be in sight and get full of dust.

    I also get what he’s attempting to do there,really nice.

  8. Cool!

    I think your display needs a graphic of a magic-eye tube on the LCD. I suppose there is no ‘signal strength’ for it to measure… maybe it could measure the bitrate.

    About cutting up antique radios… I’d do a little research first regardless of how little I paid for it. Could be that the previous owner didn’t know what it was worth! That’s probably not much of a worry off a popular auction site like eBay though. Somebody would have bid it up, unless it was a ‘Buy it Now’.

  9. the valve amp and speaker would have had a more retro sound. However if you are not comfortable with re-capping an old valve amp i have no objections. its a good build but for another retro effect copy the original station list on the screen :) good job though

  10. I like the display. Antique radios sometimes had the call letters of then current radio stations printed on the slide rule. The stream names remind me of that. The green color goes well with the case too, it is like the glow of some magic eye tubes. (Thus my previous comment that he needs to add an image of a magic-eye tube to the display) While being radio-retro it is also kind of computer retro as it is also reminiscent of the old green-screen text terminals.

    1. But they had 20 or 30 world cities on them, not just 7. They didn’t have the time of day to receive them though.
      I have been surfing the world wide web since the late 50’s (shortwave radio).
      Cool hack, just needs a more crowded dial. Hint; put a dot before each site, just like they did. Ditto the magic eye tube especially for the bit rate, helps tune out the trash. That’s the equivalent of signal strength in a digital world.
      Proud owner of 3 portable devices that will play flac files!

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