Introduction: FM Listening Bug

Picture of FM Listening Bug
The on thing every spy needs is a small and well concealed listening device. The FM Listening Bug Kit gives you all you need to build a small, single Transistor, FM transmitter that can operate between 80 MHz and 150 MHz. Allowing you to tun it to an open frequency on an FM Radio and listen to what is going on in the room you leave that bug in. This bug has an effective range of about 100 meters. 

In this Instructable we will cover:
  • The Schematic and some basics of how it works
  • Parts needed
  • Getting the PCB layout onto a prototyping board (pegboard)
  • Laying out the components on the board
  • Tools needed to assemble the kit
  • Soldering everything together.

Step 1:

Picture of

As you can see in the schematic below this is a very simple circuit and will be an easy build. On thing the Schematic doesn't convey very well is where the Antenna actually needs to be placed. For best results you will want the Antenna soldered to the first turn on L1. The Antenna should be about 2 inches long 

Below is the schematic from our friends at

Step 2: Parts List

Picture of Parts List
Note: A full parts list is attached to this page. Listing the part, manufacture, part number, link to, quantity and price (as of the publishing of this Instructable).

Parts List:
  • 1x 22 k Ohm Resistor $0.07
  • 1x 330 Ohm Resistor $0.06
  • 1x 1000 pF Ceramic Capacitor $0.06
  • 1x Omnidirectional Microphone $1.29
  • 1x 1.0 uF  Aluminum Electrolytic Capacitor $0.32
  • 350mm (1 foot) of 20/22 AWG Sold copper or Magnetic Wire
  • 1x BC547 Bipolar NPN Transistor $0.07
  • 1x Coin Cell Battery Holder $0.60
  • 1x .022uF Ceramic Disc Capacitor $0.16
  • 1x 47 K Ohm Resistor $0.06
  • 1x 10 pF Ceramic Capacitor $0.08
  • 1x SPST Slide Switch $0.37
  • 1x Variable Capacitor 9.8 pF to 50 pF $0.48
  • 1x Dual mini breadboard $2.19
  • Altoids Smalls Tin
  • CR2032 Cell Battery
Total cost in parts is less then $7 before shipping. Assuming you already have the wire and Altoids Smalls Tin on hand. 

Step 3: Pegboard Layout

Picture of Pegboard Layout
When creating a PCB layout from the schematic I kept several elements in mind.
  1. PCBs for the layout won't be available for some time so users need to be able to make this themselves on a Peg board
  2. Becuase a Pegboard layout is needed the traces had to be routed on a single side.
  3. The whole project is going to be mounted in an Altoids Tin to conceal it
With all that in mind i've included several files so you can either lay this out on a Peg Board or etch your own copper clad board. Attached is a zip file containing the PDF and Gerber files needed to produce your own PCB. There is a separate PDF file of the layout without the Ground plain filled in. I've also included the Fritzing and Eagle CAD files if you want to play around with the arraignment yourself.

If your going the Peg board route then print the PDF file out and cut it to size. Overlay it onto the Peg Board and hold it up to the light to get the component holes lined up with the Peg Board's grid. Then tape the layout in place. Be sure the copper grid is on the bottom of the peg board and the layout is taped to the top. Go ahead and take a pointed object like the lead from one of the parts and poke out all the component holes.

Step 4: Tools

Picture of Tools
Before we start piecing this together lets gather the tools we'll need for this.

  • Soldering iron
  • Solder
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Wire strippers
  • Helping hand/PCB clamp
  • Small flat head screwdriver or Probe
  • Solder braid/pump/bulb
  • Magnifying glass
  • Electrical Tape
  • Small Phillips Head Screwdriver
  • FM Radio
Most of these tools are self explanatory. Of course you need a soldering iron and solder to put the kit together. You'll need a small flat head screwdriver or probe to help break any unwanted solder bridges. You can very easily bridge contacts unintentionally while soldering the traces. especially when you have traces that will be very close together like the ones around the Voltage regulator. The magnifying glass will come in real handy inspecting your work and ensuring there are no unwanted solder bridges.  

Now to start putting everything together.

Step 5: Sizing the Pegboard

Picture of Sizing the Pegboard

If you plan to place your bug into an Altoids Smalls tin you will want to trim the board down. Trimming it to the same size as the layout sheet is all you need. You can use a pair of wire cutters to trim off pieces of the board. Or you can use a knife to score the board where you want to break it and use a pair of pliers to break the board. Scoring along one of the rows of holes will make it easier to break. I recommend the scoring and snapping method.

I used a ruler to line up where i wanted to score the board. Then i took a box cutter and Scored along the edge of the ruler a couple of times. Then i took my pliers and snapped the edge off. Use a file or 100 grit sand paper to clean up the edges. Then drop it into the tin to see how it fits. 

Step 6: Placing the Resistors

Picture of Placing the Resistors

We will start by placing the resistors on the board. R1 is the 22 K resistor, R2 is the 47 K Resistor, and R3 is the 330 ohm Resistor. All 3 resistor need to be placed stand on end. So take one of the leads and bend it over 180 degrees as shown in the picture above. Place the resistors in there designated spot referring to the reference diagram above as needed.

With the resistors in place, bend the leads out so they will not fall out when you turn the board over to solder them into place. When working with pegboard like this i like to use the leads of the components to link the traces from one component to another. So bending you leads in the direction of the nearest component they will be linked to is a good idea.

With the resistors in place flip the board over and solder them in place. Don't worry about soldering the ends of the leads down as traces until we get all the components in place. But go ahead and use your pliers to bend them around to where they need to go and cut off any access so its out of the way.

Step 7: Placing the Capacitors

Picture of Placing the Capacitors
Now we will place the capacitors. Pay attention to the polarity of the Electrolytic capacitor (C1). The silver stripe down the side of the can is the negative side, (its also the side with the shorter lead) and needs to be on the left hand side if your keeping your board oriented in the same way the reference image is. You will need to fully straighten out the leads to fit in the board correctly.

As for the Ceramic capacitors make sure you have the correct ones going into the correct spots. The Capacitors will be labeled on there bags but not on the components themselves. So double check the capacitor and where it goes on the board.
  • C2 - 1000 pF
  • C3 - 10 pF
  • C4 - .022 uF
  • C5- Variable Capacitor
The variable capacitor is the component with the little Phillips head screw in the top of it. The leads of C5 won't be long enough to bend out. But friction should hold it in place for you while you solder the components. The Leads of capacitors C2 will need to be straightened like the Electrolytic capacitor. As you can see C4 is a fairly large capacitor. Feel free to insert the leads on either side of the indicated marks. Also the leads of C5 are a bit wider then indicated on the layout but it will fit. 

Like before bend the lead out a bit in the direction they need to go. Flip the board over and solder the leads into place. Then route the leads and trim as needed.

Step 8: Transistor and Mic

Picture of Transistor and Mic

Now we will place the transistor, mic and switch.

Make sure you have the transistor lined up correctly. As you can see in the reference image the flat side of the transistor needs to be facing to the right. This puts the Emitter on the bottom, Base in the middle and Collector on the top. Bend the leads out a bit and move on to the next component.

Feel free to leave the switch off if you want. It will make fitting it into the Atoids Smalls tin a bit easier. I've left off the switch here so we'll need to bridge the solder trace area where the switch would be. If you decide to use the switch it will need it's leads bent in ever so slightly so they will fit into the board. The leads of the switch won't be long enough to bend towards other components. But friction will hold it in place while you solder it.

The mic will drop into place without any issue. Bend the leads as needed and your ready to solder everything in place.

Step 9: Making Your Inductor and Antenna

Picture of Making Your Inductor and Antenna

Now we need to create the inductor for the circuit (L1). For this you will need a 220mm length of 20/22 AWG sold wire and a 6mm diameter object like a No 2 pencil. You need to use sold wire and not braided wire otherwise the coil won't hold its shape very well. If you use Magnetic wire that would be best. If you are using standard wire strip the first 40 mm of insulation off one end. Then you will make about 8 turns around the pencil. Keep the turns loose so the turns don't touch each other, unless your using magnetic wire then you don't have to worry about it. Leave about 5 or 6 mm at either end of the coil so you can solder it to the board. Put the Inductor in place and solder it in place.

Now take a 50mm piece of the wire and solder one end of it to the 1st turn on L1 near the top of the board. This will be your transmitter's antenna. If you are using magnetic wire then be sure to scrape the coating off the end of the Antenna wire and the turn you'll be soldering it to before soldering it in place. If you are using regular wire then strip the end. Wrap the end into a little hook so you can hook it around the first turn and solder it into place. 

Step 10: Battery Clip

Picture of Battery Clip

Finally we get to the battery clip. In the area of the GND pad on the reference image we need to create a ground pad for the battery. To do this we will use a couple of leftover bits of wire about 10mm long. Strip the insulation off the wire and create 2 U shaped pieces about 5mm wide in the middle and place them running from top to bottom and side by side in the GND pad area and solder them into place.

Now take the battery clip itself and place it on the board so the battery can be inserted into the right hand side of the board. Notice the 2 tabs in the back of the clip. The need to be towards the middle of the board. When placing the clip it will be a tight fit between it and the coil. Solder the clip in place and we are ready to make the traces.

Step 11: Soldering the Traces

Picture of Soldering the Traces

Now starting with one component at a time start bending the leads the rest of the way over to make contact with the components they need to link too. Where you don't have leads to help make your trace start creating solder bridges across the copper pads to the component. It may be a good idea to take some scrap wire and strip it bear to use as a trace from one component to the next. If you don't like the look of solder bridges on a breadboard then use bits of wire to go directly from 1 component to the next.

Take your time and do one trace at a time. Like they always say "measure twice and cut once". In this case check and verify the trace placement twice and solder once.

Step 12: Wrapping It Up

Picture of Wrapping It Up

So there you have it an FM Listening Bug. If you plan to place the bug into an Altoids Smalls tin you will want to cover the bottom of the board with electrical tape to prevent any shorts. It would also be a good idea to cover the inside of the tin's lid so nothing shorts out there. 

If you decided to use the switch you will need to measure out where the switch will stick out so you can cut an opening for it in the tin. A 1/4 inch drill bit should be sufficient for making a large enough hole for the switch. For best reception you will want the antenna to be on the outside of the tin so feel free to drill a small hole to allow the antenna to stick out.

We only want the board to sit in the Altoids tin. It shouldn't be permanently mounted since you will have to remove the board in order to change the battery. Of course the board could have been made smaller but then it would be difficult to put together as a kit.

So there you have it a nice little FM Listening Bug you can use to spy on your friends. Pair this with my Electronic Bug Detector Kit and you have a fun little electronic hide and seek game. Create multiple bugs and hide them all over the place. Or you can just use the bug as an FM wireless mic and have fun playing Radio DJ.

NOTE: To date i haven't been able to get this design to actually transmit to an FM radio. I found the original Schematic at this web site and assumed it was a functioning design. I used the More Stable design for this project. Maybe the BC547 transistor needs to be replaced with either a 2N3904 or a 2N2222. The Coil may also be too big as well, but i don't have the available time to troubleshoot the project any further.

UPDATE (10/5/2012): I found a problem in the board layout. The transistor is pictured on the layout backwards. I'll be working on a new prototype soon and make sure everything actually works before updating the instructable. I'll keep you all posted.


ckgarside (author)2012-10-24

You cant order any less than 1000 variable capacitors, and I really don't wan't to spend $294. Are there any substitutes?

streetj58 (author)ckgarside2015-10-21

Thrift stores old junk radios and electronic thrift store from throwing it away

mpilchfamily (author)ckgarside2012-10-24

This has been asked in the comments before. At the time of making this instructable they had them available in smaller quantities. You can use any resistor of the same value you want. There are many to choose from and you may even find a cheaper deal.

Just so you know the transistor is displayed facing the wrong way on the layout. So make sure the flat side of the transistor is facing away from the battery. You may also want to make this on a perf board that isn't copper clad. Then let us know if it actually work after that.

I've gotten mine to transmit but can't tune it to any US FM station.

ckgarside (author)mpilchfamily2012-10-25

What resistor do you prefer for this application?

mpilchfamily (author)ckgarside2012-10-25

The ones in the list.Just do a search on the Mouser site to find another option for that same resistor value. Brand and tolerance are not that big of a deal in this circuit.

tutdude98 (author)mpilchfamily2013-04-13

dont you mean capacitor not resistor ?? capacitor have Farads and resistor Ohms

streetj58 (author)2015-10-21

Santana needs to be tuned.instol a trimmer capacitor needs to be used if you want to use a standard radio to listen.without a scope to check frequency it will take awhile to tune.also ask you friends and look for sales on used junk like CD players for parts.thrift stores for couple bucks can buy items to rob parts 3.00 dollars is what I spent

Rfmhz (author)2015-01-24

It will work I just modified this .but there was a slight error on his schematic that e never showed there .any how nice work thought .you put your antenna in to centre piece hole and on the metal can place the outer earth wire of coax onto the metal can .that my friend is what I call earth is up and ground is what we stand on :-)

Rfmhz (author)2015-01-24

It will work I just modified this .but there was a slight error on his schematic that e never showed there .any how nice work thought .you put your antenna in to centre piece hole and on the metal can place the outer earth wire of coax onto the metal can .that my friend is what I call earth is up and ground is what we stand on :-)

roustabout (author)2014-09-22

Even if this circuit works, it won't transmit unless the antenna is allowed to pass through the Altoids box. The metal box is a perfect Faraday cage.

I may not be the smartest man but if the wire touches the can will it transmit then? The can is a conductor...

biraj1002 (author)2014-05-24

I flip BC547 transistor as U told that U mistake in the diagrams.But it could transmit.i check all the frequincy but alas. How I know that I made it right or its work. Tell me the soluition

mpilchfamily (author)biraj10022014-05-24

Sorry but this project just doesn't work. I do not have the tools needed to properly troubleshoot and figure out what is going on. When dealing with transmitters even the smallest thing like a bad soldering joint can cause a capacitance issue messing with the whole thing. It could also be my layout. A slightly longer trace then expected by the original designer could be affecting things as well. But it takes a good bit of specialized equipment to troubleshoot the problem with the design. Thousands of $$ worth of equipment.

HavocRC (author)2012-12-18

Wait, so this thing takes sounds and transmits it on a radio frequency? Then, how do you listen to the sound being transmitted?

Could I replace the microphone with a audio jack so that I can plug it into my iPod and transmit? Thanks.

mpilchfamily (author)HavocRC2012-12-18

If you can get it to work it should transmit to an FM station on the radio. Or so the original schematic i found claimed it could. So far i haven't been able to get it working. But you can find all sorts of single and dual transistor FM radio designs online to try.

HavocRC (author)mpilchfamily2012-12-19

Then what purpose does this device serve if you can't listen to what being transmitted?

smiley G.I JOE (author)2012-10-08

how much will it cost to get the parts at radio shack in the us

Not all the carts can be found at Radio Shack. But of the parts you can get you'll sped about $20 and still need to buy other parts. For example the transistor BC547 isn't available at the Shack but they do carry the 2N3904 which can be used in its place. If you buy the part from a parts dealer like Mouser then you'll pay about $0.07 for the BC547 or 2N3905. At radio shack the part will cost you over $2. The Switch will cost you over $4 and thus the prices go when you buy them retail. You are paying for the extra packaging radio shack has on the parts and there 3% to 6% markup.

As of right now there seems to be a flaw in the circuit design and it doesn't quite work as it should. The bug does transmit but not on any FM frequency that we use here in the US. I believe i know the major problems behind it but don't have the funds needed to make another one to test my ideas.

ianmcmill (author)2012-09-23

i just put aside the solder iron, looked at my work. (first time soldering), read the last note and was like...Yeah Thank you very much !

Why are there non-functional walk-throughs here ?

mpilchfamily (author)ianmcmill2012-09-23

The Instructable was compiled as i went through the process of turning the schematic i found into a workable project. Unfortunately when all is said and done the schematic was a bust. But this does give you an opportunity to see what you can do to make it work.

I would hope people would read through the entire instructable before starting the project. I also figured that people would read through some of the comments as well to get an idea of how the projects have turned out for others. That not being the case i did edit the last page here with that note.

Maybe in the near future i'll find the time and money to start investigating the design further and see what i can do to make it work. As it stands now its a none functioning prototype. As so many prototypes tend to be.

ianmcmill (author)mpilchfamily2012-09-24

Yes you are right of course. And as I am totally new to electronics I would greatly appreciate further investigation. An updated title saying "currently not working" or something similar would be nice. Anyways reading an Instructable completely before starting to recreate it is mandatory.

mpilchfamily (author)ianmcmill2012-10-05

Found a problem.

I have the transistor in backwards. I still need to test it and see if that is the main issue. I'll keep you informed.

ianmcmill (author)mpilchfamily2012-10-06

oh this is awesome. looking forward to read your results. I don't know if it is important but I think I've read something about the coils. That the two ends should be on the same heigth. That means both end turns should be on on layer or on one even row of pins in the stripboard.

mpilchfamily (author)ianmcmill2012-10-06

The row of holes the inductor lines up with isn't effecting its operation. But i do think building this on a non copper clad perf board may be the solution. Just a matter of transferring the parts to the other board and making sure you have the flat side of the transistor facing away from the battery.

sciencetor2 (author)2012-07-06

Hey, i just completed my circuit, popped in the battery, and switched it on, then started working the dial on my fm radio all the way across, while having the mic next to my laptop running my itunes on shuffle. I worked my way all the way across the dial slowly, but didnt pick anything up. I then picked an empty station and in stead swept the capacitor, hoping to pick it up that way, with no luck. How can i tell if my bug is transmitting, and if it is, on what frequency? Is there a trick to it?(and no, unfortunately i do not have access to an oscilloscope)

mpilchfamily (author)sciencetor22012-07-06

You might want to try a larger battery but you won't know its working till you can hear it on the radio. I still haven't gotten mine to work right either. This came from a schematic i found online.

sciencetor2 (author)mpilchfamily2012-07-07

Does yours show up on the radio at all?

mpilchfamily (author)sciencetor22012-07-07

Like i said, i haven't gotten mine to work either. Do some searching and find yourself a good designs that uses 2 or more transistors. Like i've said in other comments below this is a design i found online. There was no assurance that it was a working design and i don't know enough about any of this to tell if it was or not or fix any design problems.

sciencetor2 (author)mpilchfamily2012-07-07

ok, fair enough, any chance you could link me to the original design online so i can check for any errors?

mpilchfamily (author)sciencetor22012-07-07

Its is among several transmitter designs. I chose it over a 2 transistor design for its possible stability and simplicity. I wanted a small transmitter that would fit in the Altoids smalls tin and could be entered into the Spy Challenge. Here is the site i found it one.

The one under the More stable heading is the schematic i used. You'll see further down there are several 2 transistor designs and the next page offers 3 transistor designs. Those will be much more stable and offer better ranges. 

sciencetor2 (author)mpilchfamily2012-07-07

the only deviation from the original that I can see is that you called for 20/22 AWG wire, while the original calls for .5mm, or roughly 24 AWG. Im not sure if this will make any difference, but i ordered a small amount of 24 AWG magnet wire from my favorite supplier to test just in case, since I got it cheap. one thing it says to watch is the placement of the variable capacitor in relation to the coil, which you appear to have done correctly... so in other words i have no idea. Try building their DIY bug field strength detector?

mpilchfamily (author)sciencetor22012-10-05

Found a problem.

I have the transistor in backwards. I still need to test it and see if that is the main issue. I'll keep you informed.

mpilchfamily (author)2012-07-25

It's suppose to transmit to a standard FM radio. Since no one else is able to get this design to work it seems its a bad design. I followed the schematic as i found it and transferred the schematic here and did the PCB layout based on the schematic. So as far as i can tell the original schematic never worked right.

Found a problem.

I have the transistor in backwards. I still need to test it and see if that is the main issue. I'll keep you informed.

Akolpacke (author)2012-07-29

Very thorough and well documented/explained build, great job… I’m anxious to try my hand at putting this together. Only thing that bothers me was your “Note” at the end of the instructable which stated that you had not yet been able to get your design to actually transmit to an FM radio. Did drilling a hole in the case and allowing the atenna to be outside the case solve the transmit problem??? I’m looking to make sure everything works before I sink any time into building one for myself.

mpilchfamily (author)Akolpacke2012-07-29

It doesn't work in or out of the case. And it seems others can't get it working either so i have to assume its a bad design in general. But you can check the site i found it on and try one of the 2 transistor transmitters which will be more powerful and stable.

Found a problem.

I have the transistor in backwards. I still need to test it and see if that is the main issue. I'll keep you informed.

vipin786 (author)2012-07-13

May be this will be helpful

mpilchfamily (author)vipin7862012-07-13

Excellent find! Just need to order the diode and see if this design is total crap or if its just me. LOL

vipin786 (author)mpilchfamily2012-07-13

This things works perfectly i used it to test my fm transmitter.

sciencetor2 (author)vipin7862012-08-04

did you ever build the tester?

vipin786 (author)sciencetor22012-08-04

Yea I built this long time ago it worked , you need to connect your probes to analog multimeter never tried with digital one.
This thing will only show if your lc tank is oscillating or not & will not be able to show frequency at which it oscillates.

mpilchfamily (author)vipin7862012-10-05

Found a problem.

I have the transistor in backwards. I still need to test it and see if that is the main issue. I'll keep you informed.

Guccisgizmos (author)2012-09-06

i clicked on the link for the trimmer capacitor and it says i have to buy 1000 of them minimum... is that what you did or is there a cheaper place to buy this capacitor... cause for 1000 of those the price sky rockets to around $200

That's been a recent change. I was able to order just 1 of them at the time i built this. Be sure to read all the comments before you start this build. There is a problem with the schematic/parts list i used and the finished product doesn't work. Why? We don't know. Don't have enough knowledge and experience in radios to be able to figure that out.

Found a problem.

I have the transistor in backwards. I still need to test it and see if that is the main issue. I'll keep you informed.

VirtualBoxer (author)2012-08-03

The FCC is going to get you for this! (You have to have a special license to broadcast AM, FM, PM, NTSC, PAL, FRS, GMRS, CB, HAM, or any other standardized TV or radio protocol at a distance over 200 feet.)

FRS (,GMRS?) and CB are free to use under certain rules. For FRS 0,5W is the max, which Walkie-Talkies use. And that is quite over 200 feet. Same for PMR446 in the EU (FRS is not legal here, and PMR446 is not legal without license in North America, which cause European tourist to get in trouble when they use their Walkie talkies).

First of all posting plans for building a transmitter doesn't violate any regulations. Building the transmitter doesn't violate any regulations. Using a transmitter that is over a specified power rating is against FCC regulations. You can broadcast on AM or FM without a license as long as your transmitter is not transmitting over a certain wattage. FCC regulations (AFAIK) doesn't specify a distance only a wattage. Though the distance a transmitter transmits is directly related to its power output. Actually AFAIK AM is completely open for use without a license.

But all of this is a mute point anyway since this design doesn't even work.

sciencetor2 (author)mpilchfamily2012-08-04

also, i swapped out the coil with one built exactly to the original design, no luck

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a jack of all trades and a master of none. I like to tweak, mod and improvise whenever possible!
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