Introduction: Restoration - New Life Out of a Busted 1930's Radio Conversion

First of all let me point out that this $35.00 Western Royal console radio was broken, and in my assessment would cost more to repair than to convert into a classy good sounding radio.

I was at my local thrift store a few months ago and saw this radio, its case was not in too bad a shape, but when plugged in nothing happened. I talked them down to 35 bucks, and loaded it up. When I got it home and took the frame out of it, it was apparent that it had been on fire, and that most of the point to point soldered electronics were cooked. I then researched how much a fully functional one would be and perfect ones go for about 300.00 bucks.

So I decided to modernize it, but keep the old look, and make the old controls work a new radio. It needed a full make over and a revamp of everything. The original parts are the knobs, case, metal frame, dial and bezel.

After its conversion its an AM/FM radio with MP3 player, with Bose bookshelf speakers and 150 watts of power.

(2015 update: I also added an input selector switch to the back to choose from AM/FM and Bluetooth link to my iphone)

This instructable cannot cover all radio conversions for all models of radio's, but is a good starting point, its also a complicated build requiring you to think on your feet and come up with your own solutions, I will give you all the information I can.

On to parts and supplies:

Step 1: Tools, Parts and Supplies Needed

Tools:

Hammer
Screwdrivers
Soldering iron
solder
drill with bits 
jig saw
sanding equipment (orbital sander recommended)
Oven

Parts:

Replacement AM/FM receiver (KLOSS model 1 used here)
Small Mono or Stereo amplifier (Pyle 160 watt used here)
Speaker(s) (Bose bookshelf speakers used here)
Speaker wire
scrap particle board 3/4" thick

Supplies:
sand paper (if your case is in good shape, 400 grit to 1000 grit)
Lexan sheet plastic (available at most hobby shops in 8x10 sheets)
Carpet glue
paint (some cases including mine had black or gold trim)
Varnish 
Wood stain
wood filler
1/8" plywood to make cabinet back or paneling.
Balsa wood
epoxy (5min)


Knowledge of electronics, woodworking, and mechanical skills needed for this conversion.

Step 2: The Radio Before and the Dismemberment.

As you can see it was in bad shape, the plastic dial cover was broken, the finish was mired and the grill was dingy. 
I started by stripping the case of all hardware:

If you don't know how these radios are put together its pretty simple, all the major electronics are mounted on a heavy metal frame that is easily removed to service and change the vacuum tubes. 

Its common for many of these radio's to have the frame bolted to a shelf with thumbscrews, thats how this one was, but to pull the frame out you will need to remove the knobs with a flat head screw driver.

Step 3: Pulling the Frame and Stripping the Rest of the Hardware.

After taking out the three thumb screws that hold in the large metal frame, I removed the speaker and antenna. This radio as with most of the ones from the 1930's to 1950's only had one speaker, it was in good shape as was a few of the vacuum tubes not cracked. 

I recouped some of my money for this project in selling the spare parts online. 

The large metal frame was stripped of all parts except the large dial and its tuning mechanism.  I removed all the parts above and below the frame. 

Later this frame will be used to support the new radio and its equipment. 

Step 4: Refinishing the Cabinet

I removed the grill cover, it was simply a piece of plywood with a hole for the speaker.  It also had the grill cloth stapled to it. 

Because this cabinet was in decent shape, having only a gummy varnish on it, I used an orbital sander and 400 grit to remove the top layer, then the 600 grit to smooth it followed by 1000 by hand to make it silky smooth. 

Be very careful and don't sand to much, almost all of the cabinets are made of plywood veneered in thin exotic wood. 

I then stained the top center and bottom to simulate the use of different wood as trim. 

Then the edge banding was repainted black just like the original, follow this with your favorite finish, I use spray on polyurethane, several coats with light sanding in-between coats. 

Your case could need more or less work than mine, or you may want to leave it completely alone and have a very rustic looking radio thats up to date inside. 



Step 5: Grill Cloth Replacement or Cleaning?

My grill cloth once removed was very dirty, I soaked it in warm soapy water for several minutes and it turned out ok, so it was reused. 
I also put the Bose emblem from my speakers on it just for effect. 

Should yours need replacement, many places on the internet sell suitable cloth, I have even seen that older semi transparent curtain cloth that would work. 

In this picture you can also notice the stained trim. 

Step 6: Speaker Installation

Because this was a MONO radio it only had one mount and hole for a 8" paper cone speaker. 
I removed the mount, made of plywood and enlarged the hole so that two speakers siting on a shelf behind the hole could fire out of the enlarged hole. 

I will be using a stereo amp so both speakers will be used. You can just use one if you want to go that route. 

I had an older set of Bose bookshelf speakers in my closet, most any type of speakers could be used, you just need to match them to your amplifier, you could also use a good set of computer speakers...

I started by making a particle board shelf for the speakers and attaching them to this shelf with wood screws. I also put felt between them to ensure that they didnt rattle. 

This was mounted in the base (see the second picture) using wood screws. 

Step 7: Display Cover Replacement.

These old radio's used a very early oil based plastic for their bubble like display cover. Mine has turned dark yellow and had several cracks.  Remove all of it from your bezel. 

A little research and I found several sites that offered to sell you a kit to let you make a replacement. 

I however made my own using sheet lexan and my oven.  Here is the step by step method I used to make a plug or mold for my display:

Wile your at the hobby store getting your sheet of lexan pick up some 3/4inch thick balsa wood. ( if you cant find it then glue some up to that thickness)

Use the original metal bezel ( the part that held the original dial cover) as a guide and trace the inside outline on your balsa and cut it out. 

Test fit your balsa plug and make it fit a little loose by sanding it down. 

Then round over all the edges like your original, make sure you don't have any sharp edges or dents as they will show up in your new dial cover.  The plug should not fit tightly into your bezel, it should have a 1/32nd inch gap all around the edge. 

Now peel the anti-sctratch coating off of the lexan and lay it over the the balsa mold/plug, you want at least 2 inches of overhang around the mold.  the sheet of lexan you bought will yield two or three usable pieces, and if your like me, I messed up the first one. 

Put the mold with the lexan on it, on a cookie sheet and put it into the oven at 300 deg, leave the door cracked and watch as the lexan starts to droop over the mold. This wont take long!

When you see it droop down to the cookie sheet, wearing some oven mitts, quickly remove it, sit it on the stove and push the metal bezel down over the mold and hold it there until it cools.

You now have a new plastic dial cover to trim out and use!

Step 8: Radio Receiver and Amplifier Selection

Depending on your radio, you will want to consider the room you have for a modern radio to bolt down on top of the original metal frame. I stuck with using the old frame as it had all the old knob mounts and old switches. I then tried to find a suitable radio, It needed to have a mechanical tuner, this was so I could link it to the original knob.

I settled on the Kloss model one radio, it has an excellent receiver and has an optional input I could use for MP3 or other inputs.  I found a good used one online, you may choose a different radio and you will have to engineer your own connections for it. 

I wanted a good amount of power as well, I looked around for a small amplifier to mount on the frame with the radio, I settled on a small sized Pyle PRO style amplifier, they are small and seem to work well, I have used one for a couple of years and its been good. 

You could also use a good set of computer speakers and eliminate the amplifier as long as you can get the volume control to the front. 

Step 9: Mounting the Radio and Amplifier

It pains me to do it, but I had to take apart the Kloss radio, saw it in half and bolt it to the old radio's frame, being very carful of the electronics. 

The amplifier was not that difficult, Its only challenge was removing the USB port from it and extending it to the back of the radio, this was done so I could easily reach the MP3 controls and change the USB drive anytime I wanted. 

I wont go into to much details on how it was mounted and wired, this is just to give you an idea of hows it can be done,  the chances of you finding the same radio that I used as very slim, so you will have to do allot of custom work, just like I did, I will label each picture with as much information as possible.

To extend the  controls, some were rewired and extended, and some were left in place and driven with a belt from the old controls using RC car belts and pulleys.  The hobby shop was a good resource for this project. 

After wiring the components and testing everything for good operation I epoxied all the wiring down to keep it from vibrating. 
Only do this after you know everything works fine. 

Step 10: Knobs and Control Mounts

I glued new felt to the backs of the knobs, this is to keep out dust and keep them from rattling. 

As you can see from the pictures I ran belts from the stock knob controls to the new radio's controls. These were toothed belts used in printers and RC cars. The pulleys were from RC cars. Very strong but cheap. 

The station indicator needle uses a string wrapped around the tuning knob shaft, I kept this arrangement, its just for looks but moves when you turn the dial.  Its kept tight by a spring in the loop. This was the factory setup, but with a new fishing line string added. 

A good way to run your belts is to get them a little longer for your pulleys, and use a plastic stand off  bolted to the metal frame for a belt tensioner.  Some of the knobs on the Kloss radio were also sanded to ruff them up so the bets would gain traction. 

Step 11: MP3/USB Drive Port and Radio Back

The Pyle amp had a small board with the buttons and usb port for the MP3 player, I removed the board and extended the wires a foot and mounted the board in a box that was mounted to the back of the radio. 

Its mounted low enough that you don't notice it when its running. 

The stock radio didn't have a back board covering the electronics, the old stuff had tubes, and tubes were very hot. 

This one doesn't get very hot, so I made a dust cover with a few vent holes.  Its made from 1/8" paneling painted black with a undercoat paint, this is a rubbery paint that helps it reduce cabinet vibrations.  

At higher volumes it rattled quite a bit, this problem was solved by putting felt in-between the back and the case 

Step 12: The Finished Radio

I can say they really new how to make them back in the day.

The case was made to get the most volume out of a tiny crappy speaker, with modern ones it has a deep rich tone. 
With the mounting method of angling the speakers the way I did, it fills an entire house full of music. 
It has an open back design that uses the walls to bounce the sound around as well. 

Its great fun to put in a thumbdrive with 1940's radio broadcasts and replay to the Mercury Theater on the air!

Now dont go wild and convert any old radio some of them are very valuable, do your research and find out what its worth. 
Some of the RCA ones are worth 1000's 


Comments

author
gemini16th. made it! (author)2017-01-06

Good job- I sort of agree with the "purists" radio restorers on trying to maintain original factory appearance. BUT- at the same time, "they" should realize that there are other non-professionals out there(like myself) that enjoy the retro-audio look just as much as they do, but lack the time or finances for a complete factory restoration(It's hard enough to restore worn/peeling thin wood veneers). Replacing old outdated audio components in these vintage sets with 21st century audio technology is a great marriage of the past & present.

author
PabloK6 made it! (author)2016-06-15

Good to know that you enjoy your radio with its new functionality. I respect your decision, but I personally can't stand seeing what you did to that great radio.

Call me a purist, but I feel what you did is like taking a classic 1940's cadillac and dropping the engine off a 1997 Toyota Camry.

author
acronus. made it! (author)2014-08-26

Just did a similar project a few Months ago. The radio was a 1950 Eatons Viking in very rough shape. The original tube amp and speaker were toast and the cabinet veneer was flaking and water damaged at the bottom. It's now fitted with a 35 watt PA amp and a pair or JBL bookshelf speakers. Hookup is via 3.5mm headphone jack. The left knob used to control Power/Volume. It's just for power now. The right know used to control tuning, it 's now the volume.

On it's own, it sound ok, but when used in conjunction with a small powered sub, it sounds impressive and really surprises people the first time they hear it.

Total invested into it:

$20 for the radio

$25 for the amp

$20 for the speakers

$40 for the sub

$30 for sand paper, stain, wire, glue, etc

Total $135

Pretty much all sourced from Thrift Stores and Salvation Army.

Video of it finished https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ypg7pTJmNf0&list=UUGafiKt4ukQ0-YPON34eQ5Q

author
nickademuss made it! (author)nickademuss2016-04-05

awesome little radio!

author
ShonaD1 made it! (author)2016-03-31

I inherited something similar from my grandmother. It has great sentimental value as my mother and her family sat around it during WWII to listen to the war news. A lovely vintage radio console with a magic eye for tuning. The fabric wiring was pretty shabby and a local man rewired it for me and put a nice piece of imported authentic cloth over the speaker. All up less than $100 and he replaced the bulb in the magic eye. I also got the cabinet French Polished which cost me $1000. It works like new and looks great in my front room and it's all ready to pass on to the next generation. You've done a really nice job there.

author
nickademuss made it! (author)nickademuss2016-04-05

Thanks for looking! and the kind words. Keep the working radios working is my motto.

author
wayd made it! (author)2015-09-14

Nice project! Thinking of doing something similar for my vintage 6 volt truck radio -- converting it to modern 12 volt equivalent using pcb's and keeping analog tuner and volume control. Doesn't have to be sophisticated, just play AM tunes is all. Not interested in buying commercial rebuild.

author
andy.knote made it! (author)2015-01-08

Nice work, I've done similar work and I can appreciate the challenges and how you approach them. Nice work, nice photos and step-by-steps.

author
jandrews21 made it! (author)2013-09-24

I have a Philco 40-160 that I want to modernize but I have little to no experience with electrical wiring. I need to replace everything. I plan on only replacing the one speaker and not two, so do I need an amplifier of this size? And is there a cheaper radio that will work for me? My budget isn't as high as yours might have been seeing that I am in college. THanks for your tutorial! It has helped a lot thus far!

author
nickademuss made it! (author)nickademuss2013-10-08

Many radio/amp selections will work, Sony makes a great $20 radio, and I used the small pyle amp just to save space, I also wanted the thing to be very loud, try the thrift store for radio's and amps, you can always cut the cases down on an old analog receiver....

author
indian741 made it! (author)2012-02-03

Awesome Project ,
I did kind of the same thing , slight diffrent .

Took a philips BX610A , picked it up @ a yard sale for 20 bucks
It was still working , so i kept the inside .
Bought 2 Bose 101's , small but very awesome speakers.
Bought a quality 2x25 watt amp for 120 bucks ,
Ipod dock @ the top and a build in power suppley
@ the back its just a plug and play system.

Urs looks brand new , awesome , but i like the old / worn look better
And it sounds like bose shut , Awesome !!!

author
nickademuss made it! (author)nickademuss2012-02-03

I like the worn look as well, but this was way to worn looking for me....
I found a wireless iphone dock that I am thinking of working into this one, right now the jukebox mode of the MP3 player works great, talk radio on AM/FM gets used allot as well.

Bose sure makes good speakers, mine are over 15 years old and they still rock!

author
robot797 made it! (author)2012-01-21

i was crying so hard when i saw that
MURDERER

YOU KILLED A RADIO
YOU KILLED HISTORY

but on the other hand nice work revurbishing

(what did you do with the tubes?)

author
nickademuss made it! (author)nickademuss2012-01-21

LOL,

Ebay is were the tubes went, and read the instructable, I revived and improved a broken radio, sounds great to, its the life of the party!

author
robot797 made it! (author)robot7972012-02-02

even if it is broken it is fixable
if they are fixed they can go on up to 50 years
now it onle can 10 max

author
nickademuss made it! (author)nickademuss2012-02-03

Anything is fixable, and 50 years would be nice for any piece of equipment, if mine breaks in ten years, i will fix it, I do have a degree in electronics (-;

and I wont have to worry about finding parts to make a just a AM radio work.

author
cincygeek made it! (author)2012-01-20

Great `ible! Add me to the list of those who are currently working on a similar project. Found the console on the curb at a neighboor's house on garbage day, so rescued it. I got the cabinet restored already, it came out looking really nice. The radio has all the tubes tested/replaced, and I'm halfway through the re-cap, but no luck yet. My plan B is to replace the guts as you did, I'll keep you updated. Would be interested to know what you did to replace the "magic eye", looks like you inserted an LED? Thanks for sharing!

author
nickademuss made it! (author)nickademuss2012-01-20

Thanks cincy!

Yes, this radio had the magic eye station strength indicator, it was one of the tubes that sold well online...

I replaced it with a piece of plastic and extended the Kloss's LED, I just extended the wires, a drop of super glue is holding the LED in the plastic, and double face tape holds the plastic to the back side of the radio's dial. This is so I can remove it should I change the design, I would like to make a digital equivalent to the magic eye.

author
mutantferret made it! (author)2012-01-20

Well done. A very nice project for anyone who wants a vintage look but with modern electronics. I'm glad you said to do some research because some old radios could be valuable.
Your old new radio turned out great.

author
Servelan made it! (author)2012-01-19

We've been thinking of doing this very thing, and while my DH is expert at all things electronics, I will make sure he has this on hand when we start in on one so he has all your tips available, especially for the cabinet (oh, wait...the cabinet's my job). Beautiful work! Glad to see someone else appreciates these old radios like we do. : )

author
SolidRaven made it! (author)2012-01-19

Nice project. I didn't actually think about doing it like that when I did something similar. I've  kept some parts of the old radio intact. The amplifier I wanted for the pre amplifier for the valve sound cause the characteristics are hard to replicate without DSP and I didn't feel like designing a DSP board for this. Did make a few modifications though.

Replaced the old power supply that doubles as heater with an efficient switch mode supply. This also reduced the weight and actually cleaned up the sound cause the oscillation that originated from the power supply is gone. Contrary to popular believe this does not affect the audio quality. The switching frequency of the supply was in a different range than any of the amplifiers so it was easy enough to filter it out.
Put in a new speaker with roughly the same characteristics cause the old one started to show aging.
Replaced the power amplifier stage with a D-class amplifier cause the old power stage was about as efficient as a hamster running in a wheel is at power generation.
FM tuner went as well cause its frequency setting was heavily temperature dependant (I was able to switch radio station by leaving the doors and windows open for a few minutes).

Though cause most of the parts were somewhat of my own design it did fit quite well. If anybody needs help doing something similar to what I did feel free to contact me and I'll see if I can find a bit of time to help :)

author
nickademuss made it! (author)nickademuss2012-01-19

Thanks!

I to considered using the at least the preamp section of the radio, but its far to damaged, I love the tube sound thats for sure!

author
SolidRaven made it! (author)SolidRaven2012-01-19

Too bad, what was wrong with it?

author
nickademuss made it! (author)nickademuss2012-01-19

I would say it had a nice nest of mice under the frame and someone plugged it in and turned it on.... lots of burned up stuff, and a paper grass mixture of stuff that I guess was nest material. Thats OK, its used allot now, the Kloss receiver is very good.

author
SolidRaven made it! (author)SolidRaven2012-01-19

Yeah, that tends to go badly with valve amplifiers.

author
Topcat2021 made it! (author)2012-01-18

That is a beautiful radio and a wonderful job you did on the restoration/modification.
I would love to do something like this but I don't have a radio that size, I have 2 old tube style radios (table top models) with the Bakelite cases but I don't want to modify them as they both work (all original parts) they don't get used except as conversation pieces. I have been looking for years for a nice older radio like you found and I may find one someday.
Again wonderful job and very clever solutions to the problems encountered.
I wish you many years of enjoyment
Dan

author
nickademuss made it! (author)nickademuss2012-01-18

Thanks a bunch Dan!

Keep an eye out for a good old radio, thrift stores, flea markets, yard sales...
THey are out there and allot of them are in bad shape, electronically.
Most shops done have a tube tester and if they do they have no idea how it works.
Also so many components just go bad sitting there.

To me the soul of the radio is the case, knobs, and dials.... Save those and you keep the radio alive!


author
skittlespider made it! (author)2012-01-18

I have a similar project in mind to do someday. Last year I was helping clean out an abandoned building and I found a nice looking 8-track player. I don't know if it works or not. (The power cord has been cut for some reason).

Originally I thought it would be an awesome custom PC case. Now I might update the interior parts instead. Thanks for the inspiration!

author
nickademuss made it! (author)nickademuss2012-01-18

I also have an old 8 track player/radio, I am currently thinking about making it into a very retro Iphone dock, the hard part will be getting the phone into the old 8 track slot without damaging it... I will have to ponder that one.

author
JKPieGuy made it! (author)2012-01-18

You should be careful cause allot of old electronics usually contain "Asbestos" and you kinda did a chinky job on the back, but I really like how you restored an old radio and all that and other than that you did a really good job.

author
nickademuss made it! (author)nickademuss2012-01-18

Your correct about the asbestos, used in the Tube heat insulation, this one didnt have any, as it was originally an all open back unit, with no covering at all, so it was air cooled, no sealed back....

The current one, looks allot better and keeps the cat out the electronics...

Thanks for looking!

author
kenbob made it! (author)2012-01-18

Love this. I have this old radio and you got me thinking..... will post if if rebuild.

author
nickademuss made it! (author)nickademuss2012-01-18

Thanks !

I always wanted to do this, but hadn't found the right radio, Id like to convert a table top one, when I find one at the right price.

author
Treasure Tabby made it! (author)2012-01-18

What a beautiful find. Not to mention a clever remake.
I have, well rather my parents have this old box style wooden stereo with prop up lid probably some time from the 70's. It has a record player, places to hook up mic’s and of course an a track player. The stereo part works great. I even hooked up a video game system up a few times for the sound.
Maybe it might end up in a similar manner. ;)

About This Instructable

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Bio: Electronics engineer with allot of mechanical design expertise
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