“Vintage” Radio Gets a Modern Makeover

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.

Piezoelectric Antennas For Very, Very Low Frequencies

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.

Emergency Neighbourhood Communications Courtesy Of HELPER

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.

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Making A 1940s Radio Digital With Nixies

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.

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Building A Magnetic Loop Antenna

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.

 

This SDR Uses A Tube

When you think of a software defined radio (SDR) setup, maybe you imagine an IC or two, maybe feeding a computer. You probably don’t think of a vacuum tube. [Mirko Pavleski] built a one-tube shortwave SDR using some instructions from [Burkhard Kainka] which are in German, but Google Translate is good enough if you want to duplicate his feat. You can see a video of [Mirko’s] creation, below.

The build was an experiment to see if a tube receiver could be stable enough to receive digital shortwave radio broadcasts. To avoid AC line hum, the radio is battery operated and while the original uses an EL95 tube, [Mirko] used an EF80.

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MIT IAP Tackles Radio

MIT is well known for rigorous courses, but they also have a special four-week term at the start of each year called the IAP — Independent Activities Period. This year, the MIT Radio Society had several interesting presentations on both the history and application of radio. You weren’t there? No problem, as the nine lecture were all recorded for you to watch at your leisure. You can see one of the nine, below.

These aren’t some five minute quicky videos, either. They are basically live captures that run anywhere from an hour to almost two hours in length. The topics are a great mix including radio history, software-defined radio, propagation, radio astronomy, RADAR, and even 5G.

You might have to pick and choose. Some of the lectures are suitable for just about anyone. Some assume a bit more radio expertise in electronics or math. Still, they are all worth at least a cursory skim to see if you want to really sit and watch in detail. The only nitpick is that some presenters used a laser pointer that doesn’t show up on the inset slide graphics in the video. That makes sense because the inset slides are not really in the room, but it can make it a little difficult to understand what the speaker is pointing to on a crowded slide.

Of course, if you want to dive deep and you need more background, MIT — along with many other institutions — will let you use their learning material for free. We were especially fans of the circuits class but there are many others including just raw materials from OCW.

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