Before the invention of transistors, vacuum tubes ruled the world. The only way to get amplification or switching (or any electrical control of current) back then was to use tubes. But some tube design limitations were obvious even then. For one, they produce an incredible amount of heat during normal operation, which leads to reliability issues. Tubes were difficult to miniaturize. Thankfully transistors solved all of these issues making vacuum tubes obsolete, but if you want to investigate the past a little bit there are still a few tubes on the market.
[kodera2t] was able to get his hands on a few of these, and they seem to be relatively new. This isn’t too surprising; there are some niche applications where tubes are still used. These have some improvements over their ancestors too, operating at only 30V compared to hundreds of volts for some older equipment. [kodera2t] takes us through a few circuits built with these tubes, from a simple subminiature vacuum tube radio to a more complex reflex radio.
Taking a walk through this history is an interesting exercise, and it’s worth seeing the ways that transistor-based circuits differ from tube-based circuits. If you’re interested enough to move on beyond simple radio circuits, though, you can also start building your own audio equipment with vacuum tubes.
Continue reading “New Circuits With Old Technology”
Before everyone had a cell phone alarm to wake them up in the mornings, most of us used clock radios that would faithfully sit by our beds for years. You could have either a blaring alarm to wake you up, or be gently roused from slumber by one of your local radio stations. These devices aren’t as commonly used anymore, so if you have one sitting in your parts drawer you can make some small changes and use it to receive radio stations from a little further away than you’d expect.
This Panasonic clock radio from [Ryan Flowers] has several upgrades compared to the old clock radio hardware. For one, it now can receive signals on the 7 and 14 MHz bands (40 and 20 meters). It does this by using separate bandpass filters for each frequency range, controlled by a QRP Labs VFO kit which can switch between the two filters automatically once programmed. The whole thing is powered by 8 AA batteries, true to form with a clock radio from the ’90s.
[Ryan] notes that his first iteration was a little quiet but he’s now able to receive radio stations from as far away from Japan with this receiver. Even without a license, you can make these changes and listen in to stations from all around the world, as long as you don’t start transmitting. If you want to make a small upgrade from this clock radio though, it’s not that hard to get into.
Continue reading “Clock Radio Receives Upgrade”
Taking an old piece of gear and cramming it full of modern hardware is a very popular project. In fact, it’s one of the most common things we see here at Hackaday, especially in the Raspberry Pi era. The appeal is obvious: somebody has already done the hard work of designing and building an attractive enclosure, all you need to do is shoehorn your own gear into it. That being said, we know some of our beloved readers get upset when a vintage piece of gear gets sacrificed in the name of progress.
Thankfully, you can put your pitchforks down for this one. The vintage radio [Freshanator] cannibalized to build this Bluetooth speaker is actually a replica made to invoke the classic “cathedral” look. Granted it may still have been older than most of the people reading this right now, but at least it wasn’t actually from the 1930’s.
To start the process, [Freshanator] created a 3D model of the inside of the radio so all the components could be laid out virtually before anything was cut or fabricated. This included the design for the speaker box, which was ultimately 3D printed and then coated with a spray-on “liquid rubber” to seal it up. The upfront effort and time to design like this might be high, but it’s an excellent way to help ensure you don’t run into some roadblock halfway through the build.
Driving the speakers is a TPA3116-based amplifier board with integrated Bluetooth receiver, which has all of its buttons broken out to the front for easy access. [Freshanator] even went the extra mile and designed some labels for the front panel buttons to be made on a vinyl cutter. Unfortunately the cutter lacked the precision to make them small enough to actually go on the buttons, so they ended up getting placed above or next to them as space allowed.
The build was wrapped up with a fan installed at the peak of the front speaker grille to keep things cool. Oh, and there are lights. Because there’s always lights. In this case, some blue LEDs and strategically placed EL wire give the whole build an otherworldly glow.
If you’re interested in a having a frustrating quasi-conversation with your vintage looking audio equipment, you could always cram an Echo Dot in there instead. Though if you go that route, you can just 3D print a classic styled enclosure without incurring the wrath of the purists.
If you want to talk about antennas, the amateur radio community has you covered, with one glaring exception. Very low frequency and Extremely Low Frequency radio isn’t practiced very much, ultimately because it’s impractical and you simply can’t transmit much information when your carrier frequency is measured in tens of Hertz. There is more information on Extremely Low Frequency radio in Michael Crichton’s Sphere than there is in the normal parts of the Internet. Now there might be an easier way to play with VLF radiation, thanks to developers at the National Accelerator Laboratory. They’ve developed a piezoelectric transmitter for very long wavelengths.
Instead of pushing pixies through an antenna, this antenna uses a rod-shaped crystal of lithium niobate, a piezoelectric material. An AC voltage is applied to the rod makes it vibrate, and this triggers an oscillating electric current flow that’s emitted as VLF radiation. The key is that it’s these soundwaves bouncing around that define the resonant frequency, and the speed of sound in lithium niobate is a lot slower than the speed of light, but they’re translated into electric signals because of its piezoelectricity. For contrast, if this were a wire quarter-wave antenna it would be tens of kilometers long.
The application for this sort of antenna is ideally for where regular radio doesn’t work. Radio doesn’t work underwater, but nuclear subs trail an antenna out of the back to receive messages using Extremely Low Frequency radio. A walkie talkie doesn’t work in a mine, and this could potentially be used there. There is a patent for this piezoelectric antenna, so if anyone knows of a source of lithium niobate, put a link in the comments.
We’ve seen this trick before to make small antennas even smaller, but this is the first time we’ve seen it used in the VLF band, where it’s arguably even more impressive.
For many people, phone and Internet connectivity are omnipresent and always available. It’s possible to upload selfies from a Chinese subway, and search for restaurant reviews in most highway towns, all thanks to modern cellular connectivity. However, in emergencies, we’re not always so lucky. If towers fail or user demand grows too large, things can collapse all too quickly. It’s in these situations that HELPER aims to flourish.
HELPER stands for Heterogeneous Efficient Low Power Radio. It’s a radio system designed to operate in the absence of any infrastructure, creating a pop-up network to serve community needs in disaster areas. Users can share information about available resources, like water, gasoline and food, while emergency workers can coordinate their response and direct aid to those who need it.
It’s a system built around commonly available parts. Raspberry Pis run the back end software and communicate with individuals over WiFi, with LoRa radios handling the longer-range communication from node to node. Combining this communication ability with GPS location and stored map data allows users to more easily find resources and assistance when things go wrong. The journal article is freely available for those wishing to learn more about the project.
It’s a project which aims to keep people safe when conventional networks go down. The key is to remember that once disaster strikes, it’s usually too late to start distributing radio hardware – emergency gear should be in place well before things start to go south. Of course, there’s also the government side of the equation – in the USA, the Emergency Broadcast System is a great example of emergency communications done right. Video after the break.
Continue reading “Emergency Neighbourhood Communications Courtesy Of HELPER”
Classix Philly One Oh Seven Nine is your home for Philly soul right at the top of the dial, and now you know why this writer isn’t allowed on the Hackaday podcast. That phrase, ‘top of the dial’ doesn’t mean much these days because we all have radios with a digital display and seek buttons. There was a time when radios actually had dials, but [glasslinger] is in a class all by himself. He’s adding a digital display to a 1940s radio, and he’s doing it with Nixie tubes.
The circuitry for the digital display for this AM radio requires getting the frequency the radio is tuned to. This is done by counting the oscillator frequency, then subtracting the IF. [glasslinger] is doing this with an Arduino (hey, it’s a legitimate engineering choice) and a 4040 12-bit binary counter as a pre-scaler. The Arduino does the math and then drives a few 74141 Nixie drivers, which then display the frequency of the receiver in beautiful glass tubes. Add in a single neon bulb for the thousands digit, and you have a four-digit display that will tell you the frequency you’re tuned to on an old AM radio.
The rest of the build consists of fixing up an old radio and gluing the veneer down again with modern glues that will last another seventy years. The finished cabinet was sanded, a bezel for the display was added, and since [glasslinger] has the equipment, he made a new, long neon tube to light up with the volume of the radio. And you thought a cat’s eye detector was cool.
This build is a tour de force, and something that is so incredibly modern but at the same time built on vintage technology. If you’ve got an hour and a half, we highly recommend checking out the build video below.
Continue reading “Making A 1940s Radio Digital With Nixies”
Antennas come in many shapes and sizes, with a variety of characteristics making them more or less suitable for various applications. The average hacker with only a middling exposure to RF may be familiar with trace antennas, yagis and dipoles, but there’s a whole load more out there. [Eric Sorensen] is going down the path less travelled, undertaking the build of a self-tuning magnetic loop antenna.
[Eric]’s build is designed to operate at 100W on the 20 meter band, and this influences the specifications of the antenna. Particularly critical in the magnetic loop design is the voltage across the tuning capacitor; in this design, it comes out at approximately 4 kilovolts. This necessitates the careful choice of parts that can handle these voltages. In this case, a vacuum variable capacitor is used, rated to a peak current of 57 amps and a peak voltage of 5 kilovolts.
The magnetic loop design leads to antenna which is tuned to a very narrow frequency range, giving good selectivity. However, it also requires retuning quite often in order to stay on-band. [Eric] is implementing a self-tuning system to solve this, with a controller using a motor to actuate the tuning capacitor to maintain the antenna at its proper operating point.
If you’re unfamiliar with magnetic loop builds, [Eric]’s project serves as a great introduction to both the electrical and mechanical considerations inherent in such a design. We’ve seen even more obscure designs though – like these antennas applied with advanced spray techniques.