Thanks so much to Rick for sending in his great antique radio project! Check out the full build here.
One of my favorite things in the world is The Thrilling Adventure Hour (TAH), a stage production in the style of old-time radio, performed live on stage, and recorded as a podcast. I fly to LA once a month to see the live show, wherein actors stand on stage at microphones, scripts in hand, performing episodes of different story lines. The evening usually begins with an episode of “Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars,” and ends with an episode of “Beyond Belief.” There is a rotating story’s episode in the middle, and a couple of fake sponsor ads thrown in. They have surprise guest actors (often well-known from TV or movies), and then the entire cast and crew spend time after the show to chat with audience members. It’s funny and fun, and I wouldn’t miss it.
One of my friends (who often sees the show with me) has a father who collects old radios. This got me thinking about what it was like before television, how people gathered around their radios to listen to radio plays. What if you could listen to The Thrilling Adventure Hour on an old radio?
As it turns out, it’s very common to modify old radios to accept an auxiliary input for an MP3 player. With these modifications, whatever the MP3 player outputs is amplified through the vacuum tubes of the old radio and played on the old speaker.
But I wanted something different. I wanted to turn the tuning knob to “tune” in different podcasts. In the case of TAH, there would be “stations” for Sparks Nevada, Beyond Belief, Jefferson Reid, and so on. They have a lot of music in the show, too, so there’d be a station of TAH music. So, I built this.
I call it “Podtique”, an amalgam of “podcast player” and “antique radio.” I took a 1936 Goldentone radio purchased on eBay, removed the old tube radio and speaker, and replaced them with a laser-cut wooden structure that contains a BeagleBone Black and audio components. Potentiometers attached to the knobs on the front are connected to the BBB’s analog-to-digital converters, and code on the BBB uses that to simulate tuning to different radio stations.
As long as it’s powered, the BBB runs the radio simulator. The left knob contains an on-off switch and volume control. The third knob is the tuning control. The other two knobs are currently unused.
Each “station” is a playlist of MP3 files stored on the BBB. The tuning knob is attached to a five-turn potentiometer, giving fairly fine-grained tuning control to the user. As you approach the designated frequency for a station, the appropriate MP3 file is opened and begins decoding.
Whenever you’re not tuned to a station, pink noise plays. This is mixed with station content, gradually fading away as the tuning improves. The volume potentiometer is used to attenuate the resulting mixed samples. If the knob is turned all the way off, the BBB mutes the audio amplifier and turns off the dial backlight.
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