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




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

About: Electronics engineer with allot of mechanical design expertise email I dont check here often for messages so email me if you have one

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


Soldering iron
drill with bits 
jig saw
sanding equipment (orbital sander recommended)


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

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)
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 

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    4 months ago

    I have a 1938 Crosley Prestotune 12 that I have not yet decided to restore it or modernize it. Any suggestions?


    5 years ago

    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.


    Reply 1 year ago

    I know what you mean. This is better than what happens to many of these gems which is to sit in a bad place until they are junk and taken to a dump one day. But what I like to do for something like this the same with cars is to keep all of the original guts, then try to not modify any of whats left and just add in the newer guts. That can be done many times with a little time and parts to adapt things. Then it is all there to be taken back if someone down the road wants to do that. One thing fun about a project like this is seeing the surprise on a visitors face when you play it with the modern guts and they think that is how well it originally sounds!


    3 years ago

    Thanks for posting this. I have two General Electric H-87's from 1939, both had sat in a barn for a over a decade. They're uncommon but not very valuable. One had most the internal parts gone but a mint cabinet, the other was repainted and supposedly worked. Both had those early plastic bezels that were corroded. I've spent months trying to think of a radio/amp that would fit in the good cabinet, but I both didn't want to cut it and nothing would fit the holes. This is a simple but effective solution.

    As for the person saying this was like putting a '97 Camry engine in a classic car, these old radios only picked up AM and Shortwave. Shortwave is all but gone and AM for decades has been talk radio, so it's more like taking out a steam engine with all it's foibles and putting in a gasoline one. Even just using the tube amp section for the speakers would be tricky. Definitely don't mess up one of the high end Zenith's or a functioning original, but for anon-functional lesser known radio why not?


    3 years ago on Step 12

    Thank you for all the tips. I have a dozen or more that I have collected over the years. I was obsessed when listening to Mystery Theater and Fiber McGee and Molly at my grandparents house. I am in the process of restoring some but refurbishing them is almost pointless. I am saving the tube sets and simply putting Bluetooth spakers in them. I wish I had the technical wherewithal to at least hook up the power know and lights. Kudo to you at least making them live again. To the person that criticized you, shame on them for not appreciating the repurpose. Am is dead. Though they be shells of a bygone era, at least they are preserved.


    4 years ago

    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.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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


    Reply 5 years ago

    awesome little radio!


    5 years ago

    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.


    Reply 5 years ago

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


    6 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    6 years ago on Step 12

    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.


    8 years ago on Step 8

    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!


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 8

    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....


    9 years ago on Step 12

    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 !!!


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 12

    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!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    i was crying so hard when i saw that


    but on the other hand nice work revurbishing

    (what did you do with the tubes?)


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction


    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!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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