Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Transistorize Your iPod!

I never went anywhere as a kid without my transistor radio. As I grew up, I didn't hear my favorite songs on the radio anymore, so I began to collect them. But hearing "Monday, Monday" on giant stereo speakers didn't pack the emotional wallop of hearing it on the 2 and a quarter inch speaker. When the iPod Shuffle came out, it hit me. Now I could hear what I wanted the way I did in the 60s. Here's how you can, too. Click any pic to enlarge it.

Gather an old transistor radio, and some basic tools. Hey, this IS like the 60s. What we're going to do is wire the output of the iPod to the volume control audio input on the radio.

Open up the old radio and do some disassembly. Stick the tiny screws to a piece of tape for storage. This speaker has a hole in it that causes buzzing when you turn up the volume, but here's an old trick - layer rubber cement on until the hole is covered. No more buzz!

Now, prepare the plug that goes into the iPod. Solder a wire to ground tap, and a small 3.3K resistor to each out channel. This converts the stereo output signal to mono. I put a piece of paper inside the plug to prevent shorting, and screwed on the top of the plug.

Drill a hole in the back of the radio case for the wire. At this point, thread the wires from the plug to the radio. Now solder the ground wire and the hot wire to the two exposed tabs on the radio's volume control. Attach a 9 volt battery to the radio, plug the plug into the iPod, and turn both on. The sound should be coming through the radio speaker. Make sure the volume control on the radio is working properly. If turning it up makes the volume go down, reverse the two wires you soldered on the volume control.

Carefully replace the radio and the new wires into the case, and reassemble the radio.

I hung the iPod on the back of the leather case because I can still take it off to go to the gym, but if you have room, you could build it into the top of the radio case in place of the ferrite antenna. My radio already had a broken antenna wire, so I left it alone.

Now go to www.reelradio.com or www.airchexx.com, and grab some vintage airchecks from your favorite childhood station. I've loaded Bill Berlin WKDA Nashville, Dr. Don Rose from WQXI Atlanta, and various jocks from WKBW Buffalo, WEAM Arlington VA, and WOWO Fort Wayne IN. Make an iPod playlist with airchecks, your fave songs, and some old commercials.

Load it up and enjoy! Even the old school earphone works! Will Apple build these for us oldsters? I hope so, but why wait around?


Anonymous said...

thanks for the write-up on wiring an ipod into an old radio--i want to do this in my 1970 beetle and its radio!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the instructions, Nick! A friend and I have wanted to do this same thing to our transistor radios so we both appreciate your information. Before I get to my question, I must inform you that I am an electronics boob so pardon me if my question seems dumb but I'm afraid if I don't ask it I'll fry either my radio or my iPod -- or both! Anyway, I understand from your instructions that by wiring the stereo mini-plug in the manner in which you describe you are converting the output signal from stereo to mono. However, I will only have mono files loaded on my iPod -- either the original mono mixes or "fold-downs" from stereo to mono. Also, to save space on my iPod I've saved the files as one-channel mono rather than two-channel mono. So, as a result of this, I'm assuming that I can use a mono mini-plug rather than a stereo one. If this is correct, will I still need to solder a resistor to the out channel of the mono mini-plug or can I run a "resistor-less" wire from the out channel to the radio's volume control? Thanks for your time...

cranched said...

You still need one resistor then to provide isolation, otherwise the audio output will be shorted.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the quick reply, Nick! Now on to the conversion of my early 60's RCA Victor Deluxe Transistor Radio...