Ask Hackaday: What To Do With A Home Intercom System?

[Kyle] just moved into a new home, a 1970s abode that was very modern for its time. When the house was built, a home intercom system was installed. Of course this intercom system was eventually disconnected, but now [Kyle] would like to find a use for it.

The intercom system is a wonderful piece of engineering from the late 60s and early 70s. The base station has an FM radio, a mono input (for plugging in a turntable, we suppose), and a huge speaker. The satellite units – one for each room in the house – are much simpler with just a push to talk switch and a volume control. Yes, in classic minimalist style, the engineers for this intercom system used the speaker as a microphone.

[Kyle] would like to keep the wonderful plastic fantastic aesthetic of the intercom system, but he’s looking for something cool to do with this hardware.  This could be the beginnings of a very cool, very strange house-wide artificial intelligence build, kind of like a consumer version of HAL 9000. We’re interested in hearing what you’d do with [Kyle]’s hardware, so leave your ideas in the comments.

103 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: What To Do With A Home Intercom System?

  1. i have a unit the is from 1990 low voltage connects all the speakers and the unit at the front door.. is there some way to use my old cellphones as connections to all the rooms.. or use the low voltage wiring to make a cell phone charger in each room?

  2. Guys,

    I got an innovative ideas towards intercom i will want to know if it can be implemented.

    I am thinking of how one can possibly attache intercom signal to a satellite receiver such as DSTV, Star time, GOTV e.t.c so as to enable users to connect their telephone to their satellite receiver in other to make intercom calls to persons connected to the same satellite receiver with their telephone in other locations such as regions or states. Their will be a central server as the intercom station that will control and assign numbers to the various telephones using the service.

    Can this be implemented?

    here is mail mail please I need your explanation on how this can be done

  3. I didn’t get through all the comments (there are about three years’ worth!), but as someone who grew up with an intercom system like this in the ’70s I thought I’d weigh in.

    My first inclination is to simply restore the unit to its original functionality — nothing more, nothing less. As someone posted earlier, these units delivered high-fidelity music with beautiful clarity; our NuTone units did, in fact, pump out sound that rivaled even my father’s state-of-the-art home stereo system (and those systems back in the ’70s easily surpass the sound quality of whatever junk they’re making today).

    I say “rivaled” but not “equaled” of course.

    But on the practical side — as yet another poster pointed out — the purpose of these systems was not primarily for deep, thoughtful, and intensive music appreciation; that’s what our STEREO SYSTEMS were for. These were a (relatively) inexpensive and unobtrusive way to wire the entire house with high-quality *background* music while one went about one’s daily chores or duties from room to room without having to carry around a radio, purchase a stereo system for every room in the house, or spend tens of thousands of dollars on an ultra-powerful stereo system that could drive multiple sets of speakers to every room in the house (along with the accompanying expense and nightmare of wiring it all).

    The added bonus was the two-way communication function; back then, the newer homes were either sprawling “ranch” style one-story models, or multi-level or “split-level” homes, where merely calling out a person’s name at the top of one’s voice as both irritating and often in vain. The alternative would have been to run from room to room (and in many cases, level to level) to find your family member.

    Another primary function, however, was one of safety (or at least perceived safety); the “woman” of the house, usually left alone during the day, would find it preferable to speak to a caller at the front door through a speaker, without being seen or having to unlock and open the door to potential danger, from the comfort and security of her kitchen, next to her telephone (should she feel the need to call for help if she felt threatened). I

    n my opinion, those three features — home-wide background music, inter-room communication, and external communication at the entry points — are all the functionality one really needs. It was all purely mechanical, with technology that lasted for decades without need of software upgrades or a fancy digital infrastructure that would break down within 5 years. And frankly, all this wild talk about wiring it to the Internet, able to take satellite phone calls, forward to your cell phone, enabling it to open garage doors and even start your oven, in my opinion, only leads to complications and trouble down the line. Our obsession with convenience is what’s becoming our major vulnerability; that which is “smart” is that which can be hacked. Call the ’70s technology primative if you will, but we never had to worry about computer geeks in Croatia being able to open our garage doors, intercept our phone calls, or start a fire in our ovens with just one keystroke.

  4. So, I’ve got a NuTone Scovill music intercom with 5 wall units. My original roomates and I swear that my landlord had to have a listening device in the house because he knew things that he could only
    Know if he was here. It sounds like this system could have been turned into la listening device by him. Could he then have used a portable NuTone box to actually listen to us.? The guy is kinda strange and I have found him in my home when I get out of the shower. I’d like to know how to check this system for that potential. Any help would be greatly appreciated as I am the only person living here and I’m female and my Dog died! Thanks

    1. I have used mine to listen to people, when I was growing up. That is a feature of these whole house intercoms. I will say that the system needs to be on and if I remember correctly, the speaker is the microphone and it was not quite. You could hear pops and scratching, because of the way it is built.

      If you were to ask me now to listen to a specific room, or even several rooms, I would easily tap off the main unit and nobody would know. The audio that I would get would not be fantastic, but if someone was close to the room unit and was talking loud enough it would be understandable.

      I would check the main unit and see if there are wires that don’t match the rest of the unit. If there are, I would try and trace the wires and see where they go.

      If you can prove that your landlord is eavesdropping, I don’t know but I would have to assume that the landlord is breaking some law, or many laws. I am not a lawyer and I have no idea what you can do but I would feel quite violated and I would seek out help so this landlord doesn’t get away with this now or ever again. Personally, I would not like being surveilled without by knowledge and I would find out exactly what I can do about it. If I find out I can’t do anything, I would at least use this knowledge to mess with my landlord as much as I possibly could.

      Keep us posted!

  5. This is some really good information about intercom systems. It is good to know that it would be smart to know what type of system it works on. Satellite system seems like it would be really nice. That does seem like a good thing to have a professional install for you.

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