Restoring a vintage radio receiver has the potential to be a fun weekend project, but it pays to know what you’re up against. Especially in the case of vacuum tube electronics, running down gremlins in the circuits isn’t always a straightforward process (also, please mind the high voltage that is present in old vacuum tube equipment). [Mr Carlson] has a knack for getting old radios humming once again, and his repair of a 1960s General Electric barn find radio receiver is a thorough masterclass in vintage electronics servicing.
Seriously, if you’ve got a spare ninety minutes, the video (after the break) is a thorough and unabridged start-to-finish diagnosis and repair of a vintage radio, and an absolute must for anyone interested in doing the same. This barn find radio was certainly showing its age, and it wasn’t long before in-circuit testing found an open filament in one of several vacuum tubes, but the radio was still stubbornly silent. Further testing revealed that the IF transformers were out of spec, requiring servicing and alignment. After fine tuning both the IF and RF sections of the radio, things were definitely looking (and sounding) better.
Fine tuning the various components in the radio went a long way to living up to its “long range” claims, and by the end of the video, it’s almost impossible to find dead air on the AM dial of this radio. If you’ve never had to make fine adjustments to a receiver, especially of this vintage, this video has all the details you’ll need. With the board exposed, [Mr Carlson] also took care of some preventative maintenance, including replacing the original filter capacitor with newer components, as well as replacing the mains safety capacitor with an even safer modern alternative.
AM radios are relatively simple devices, and building one is a good way to start exploring the world of radio communications. [GreatScott] does exactly this in the video after the break, building both a transmitter and receiver.
At the most basic level, AM radio works by generating a carrier wave with an oscillator, and then modulating the amplitude with an audio signal. Around these parts, the venerable 555 timer is always brought up whenever things get to oscillating; so you’ll no doubt be happy to see [GreatScott] decided to give it a shot for his first experiments, testing two popular 555 transmitter circuits. One uses the control voltage pin to input the audio signal, while the other uses the reset pin. The CV-pin version worked slightly better, but it was still just barely possible to distinguish a voice over a standard commercial AM/FM receiver.
The next attempt was with a XR2206 function generator kit, which worked quite well when combined with a simple microphone amplifier circuit. But this time the receiving side was swapped out, as [GreatScott] built a basic circuit around a TA7642 AM amplifier/demodulator IC, with only six passive components and a hand-wound coil.
[Mr. Carlson] is truly an old radio surgeon. The evidence? He recently restored an 83-year-old DeForest radio by transplanting an identical chassis from another similar radio. The restoration is fun to watch, but the 7D832 radio dial looks amazing. The dial is very colorful and the wooden knobs and preset selector are beautiful. To seal the deal, the center of the dial has a magic eye tube, giving the radio a retro high tech look.
The donor chassis needed some work before the surgery. In addition, [Carlson] makes some improvements along the way. The radio showed signs of previous service work, which is not surprising after 83 years.
Electronic devices can be surprisingly leaky, often spraying out information for anyone close by to receive. [Docter Cube] has found another such leak, this time with the speakers in iPhones. While repairing an old AM radio and listening to a podcast on his iPhone, he discovered that the radio was receiving audio the from his iPhone when tuned to 950-970kHz.
[Docter Cube] states that he was able to receive the audio signal up to 20 feet away. A number of people responded to the tweet with video and test results from different phones. It appears that iPhones 7 to 10 are affected, and there is at least one report for a Motorola Android phone. The amplifier circuit of the speaker appears to be the most likely culprit, with some reports saying that the volume setting had a big impact. With the short range the security risk should be minor, although we would be interested to see the results of testing with higher gain antennas. It is also likely that the emission levels still fall within FCC Part 15 limits.
Analyzing and troubleshooting a modern AM/FM radio, digital radio, or TV can be a pretty daunting task. However, a common AM radio is easy to understand, experiment with, and repair. Learning about that will help you understand more complex circuits later. That’s the idea behind the Elenco AM radio which is built on a wide-open PCB with markings for all the important sections. [The Offset Volt] uses one of these to explain how a receiver works, especially how a diode detects the signal and how the automatic gain control works.
Between a series of diagrams and live scope demonstrations, you can see the effects of capacitance in the receiver along with other circuit effects.
In this day and age, with cheap online shopping, software defined radio and bargain-basement Baofengs from China, the upstart radio ham is spoilt for choice. Of course, there’s nothing quite like the charm of keying up your own homebrewed rig, cooked up in the garage from scratch. [Paul], aka [VK3HN], knows just how it feels, and put together an epic 200 watt Class D AM rig to blast his signal on the airwaves.
It’s a build following on from the work of another radio ham, [Laurie], aka [VK3SJ]. Younger hackers will note the Arduino Nano at the heart of the project, running the VFO and handling all the relevant transmit/receive switching. We can only imagine how welcome modern microcontrollers must have been to old hands at amateur radio, making synthesizing all manner of wild frequencies a cinch.
The amount of effort that has gone into the build is huge. There are handwound coils for the PWM low-pass filter, and the PCB is home-etched in ferric chloride, doing things the old-school way. There’s also a healthy pile of dead components that sacrificed their lives in the development of this build. Perhaps our favorite part is the general aesthetic – we can’t get over the combination of hand-drawn copper traces and off-the-shelf Arduinos.
It’s a build that far exceeds the Australian legal limits, so it only gets keyed up to 120W in real use. This has the benefit of keeping the radio operating far in the safety zone for its components, helping keep things cool and stable. We’re sure [Paul] will be getting some great contacts on this rig. If you’re suffering from low power yourself, consider an amplifer build. Video after the break.
I’ve been told all my life about old-timey Army/Navy surplus stores where you could buy buckets of FT-243 crystals, radio gear, gas masks, and even a Jeep boxed-up in a big wooden crate. Sadly this is no longer the case. Today surplus stores only have contemporary Chinese-made boots, camping gear, and flashlights. They are bitterly disappointing except for one surplus store that I found while on vacation in the Adirondacks: Patriot of Lake George.
There I found a unicorn of historical significance; an un-modified-since-WW2 surplus CBY-46104 receiver with dynamotor. The date of manufacture was early-war, February 1942. This thing was preserved as good as the day it was removed from its F4F Hellcat. No ham has ever laid a soldering iron or a drill bit to it. Could this unit have seen some action in the south Pacific? Imagine the stories it could tell!
My unconventional restoration of this radio followed strict rules so as to minimize the evidence of repair both inside and out yet make this radio perform again as though it came fresh off the assembly line. Let’s see how I did.