Turn a 1950s Wireless Into a Portable Ipod Speaker




This instructable shows the steps I took to turn a circa 1950 radio into a portable speaker system, suitable for any MP3 player.

We picked up this radio from the local antique shop for just £3. The internals don't work anymore, though they sure do look cool.

The total cost of everything was around £60 - £70. Everything was bought new, and this speaker system only uses one speaker, so we're left with a spare.

6.5" speaker. This is the same diameter as the original, so it could use the existing clasps.

180w Amplifer. This is one of those dirt-cheap ebay ones. I'm sure it won't actually pump out 180 watts (per channel), but for this kind of basic system, it's fine.

12V SLA battery. a 1.3Ah battery from maplin. It's small and cheap. 1.3Ah may not be enough though, we'll see.

Cigarette lighter. A standard 12v cigarette light from a car. This provides somewhere to plug the battery in to a charger.

Fancy Missile-style switch. This switch will be the main power isolator for the battery.

Cables: Short length of speaker cable, mono 3.5mm couple and 2 3.5mm jack-jack cables.

These are the main things. Not included about is bolts, washers, screws, or the scrap bits of wood.

1950s wireless into Portable Stereo from sladekious on Vimeo.

Step 1: Disassemble the Radio

I removed the screws holding the back panel on, and then removed the internal parts by removing more screws, unattaching the tuning needle, undoing the speaker, and taking the knobs of the dials on the front.

Our internal parts, the actual radio, don't work, but since it's very old it'll be destined for either a car boot sale or freecycle as I'm sure someone will want it.

I kept the knobs for the front dials because I will put them back on the front to make it look more genuine.

I had planned to undo the rotary switches from the amp and wire them up to the front, but after doing this, I noticed the sound quality dropped significantly, due to interference I would guess.

The next step was to vacuum out 50 years of dust from the radio.

Step 2: Something to Mount the Parts To

I cut a piece of wood to fit in the cabinet to mount the amp, battery and such on to. It bolts on to the underside where the original internals mounted to.

I cut groves, albeit too big, in the wood so it would slide right in around exisiting parts.

I didn't take a pic of this before I began mounting parts to it, but as you can see, it's an old shelf cut to size. It doesn't need to be anything fancy as it won't get seen.

Step 3: Installing the Amp and Battery

The amp was screwed on to the board, and the wires to the speaker connected to one of the outputs.

Now would be a good time to talk about the fact there is only one speaker. This cheap amp can't be bridged, so only one channel is being used. Because one shouldn't really leave a channel without a load on it, I will put a LED or bulb on this channel, to use up the current.

And to get around the fact that just the left or right channel is going to be heard, I will use a mono 3.5mm jack coupler to merge both the left and the right channel into eachother to create both stereo signals on each channel.

To install the battery, which I wanted to keep upright, I placed it on the mounting board and then glued and screwwed scrap pieces of wood around to keep it in place. It shouldn't come up over the scraps of wood because the battery is heavy, but I can strap it down with a piece of bungee if needsbe.

Step 4: Installing Parts 2

I wasn't sure of the draw of the amp, so I didn't both putting a fuse in, the amp is pretty low power so it shouldn't be too dangerous. It's also low-powered enough that I can use a power switch inline with the circuit, rather than through a relay.

I wanted to make the original tuning board on the front of the radio light up, so I installed some LEDs where the original illumination light was. When charged, the battery holds a 14.7V charge, so using http://led.linear1.org/led.wiz I calculated what resisitors to use.

Step 5: Installing Parts Onto the Back

The rear of the unit is a piece of hardboard that has several holes in from previous ports.I blanked most of these off with a strip of hardboard cut to size. Holes were drilled in this piece for amp controls.

I drilled one of the holes at the top bigger and put the cigarette lighter in there.

The switch was wired in near this, which switches the amp on and off, bypassing the original switch on the amp which I removed.

I also mounted my 3.5mm jack coupler on the back too. In hindsight I should have got a proper surface-mounted connector, rather than one that just wedges in. I will secure this with a bit of hot glue and maybe a cable tie or two.

The rear of the coupler, using a jack-to-jack cable, was wired straight to the amp.

Another jack-to-jack cable needs to be carried around with this amp to plug things into it. One could have a wire that sticks out and can't be removed, or maybe a retractable one, like one a ski-pass.

The mounting board with amp attached was installed for the last time in the cabinet, and then I lined up the dials with the bottom of the back-plate. I made markings and drilled them out. 

The amp came with some shiny knobs which I have installed for now. It's not hard to replace these knobs with some nicer looking ones if I find some on the bay.

Step 6: Bonus Step

Hopefully, your resurection of an old valve radio shouldn't include this step.

This step shows how I went about replacing the broken cloth of the front of the unit.

First thing to do was remove the speaker and speaker bracket from the front piece of wood.

Then I removed the piece of wood by rotating the clasps 90 degrees to loosen the wood and remove it.

I then removed the speaker mounts which are just bolts with a fancy flush-mount plate.

The existing cloth was unceremoniously torn away from the hardboard.

I used a belt sander to remove the felt, being careful not to damage the wood. I touched it up with some sandpaper and made sure it was smooth.

After reattaching the flush-mounted plates, I used instant contact adhesive to glue a sheet of new cloth to the hardboard. It's important to use an uncut bit of cloth, rather than attempting to pre-cut it.

I placed a heavy weight on a flat piece of wood over the glueing area to make sure there were no bubble or seams.

Once the adhesive has dried, I went round the outside of the wood with a scalpel to remove excess cloth.

I used a reamer and a pencil to make the holes in the cloth. Don't use a drill, it will snag and rip your cloth apart.

I then put the piece of wood with new cloth attached back in the cabinet, reattached the clasps on to the lugs and then reattached the speaker.



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    17 Discussions


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Arrrrgh!!!! It's not hard to restore these beasties... & you don't even have to bother with the radio tuner bit. The last section of the radio is an ordinary amplifier which can accept an ipod & reproducing its sound thru its own speaker. If you're not comfortable working on a valve chassis (& who would blame you!) ask around. There's lots of vintage radio-type peoples like me who would find this a simple task. Nice instructable too:)

    7 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Pentagrid. I would like to learn how to restore valve radios and also add ipod connections or bluetooth connections so music and stories could be listened to. I live in NZ. Could you make an instructable for this? I will check out what NZVRS is. Thank you. A


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I would LOVE to but I have no experience in producing Instructables or videos for what can be quite a complex operation. I think joining the NZVRS is an excellent way to get started & then read read read. I am mostly self-taught from "Radio & Hobbies in Australia" magazine - there id a DVD with editions from 1939 - 1965 all in PDF form. These form an excellent teaching resource. Also check out websites - Phil's Old Radio's in the USA have some very well written articles on the different aspects of restoration & there are videos on You Tube - mostly american which may be worth a look. I make no apology for being cautious in all this - valve radios have high voltage in them & can kill.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks man. I am thinking just a little am transmitter in the radio after you've got it going and plug the ipod into the transmitter would prob be the best way to go. Thanks pentagrid.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Pentagrid , do you have any idea how to track down someone in the States to fix an old radio ? I know the U. S. isn't your turf but maybe you know where I might start looking . I just assumed it would be impossible to fix my great grandfathers radio . Thanks .


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, I am quite a long way away from the good ol' USA. I would search the net in the first instance, maybe look for a club? Here in New Zealand we have a society (NZVRS) which caters for chaps like me. Is there an equivalent in your area? Note they probably won't fix your radio but may be able to suggest someone who can.
    If yours is a simple model, have a look @ Phil's Old Radios (antiqueradio.org). He does NOT fix radios but explains how to go about it in some very well-written articles. I've learnt a lot from this excellent site.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I might also suggest checking out your local ham radio club, wherever you might be. There are a lot of hams that still use old tube rigs, and can work on them too. They would also have a good idea where to send you if they wouldn't want to take on the repair job themselves.


    nice touch on the 50s radio. might i add that a base could've been addes to place you ipod either on top or behind the radio. that would be real neat in aesthetics.

    nonetheless, an outstanding effort!!! congratulations!!!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    and i'd accept the speakrt too, if you don't have any plans on using it :B

    hehe, its a really nice project!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    3 things I love about this:

    1) taking something old and broken-down and making it useful again, whilst keeping intact the age-old aesthetics and charm
    2) doing so on the cheap
    3) posting a video in addition to the rest of the instructable, as opposed to posting only a video, and calling it an instructable.


    1 reply

    8 years ago on Introduction

    Why didn't you use the tube audio amp and retain the sound quality of the old tube radio. There is a quality of sound in tube amps that guitar players pay big money for and you passed it up. I know you wanted it portable with the battery, which I understand. Maby the next time you could capture the sound quality, or save that for the floor model Zenith with the turntable built in.
    Good instructable.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I Think you should send old speaker to me hehe! I Collecting it.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Hi, while using radios that are beyond repair would be a good use for this kind of project, there are a few tube radio folks that would pay a good dollar for a Phillips brand set like you just took apart. By the looks of the innards, a good recap of the set could have been all that was needed to have yourself some decent pocket money. In fact, there are some that consider this type of project blasphemy. 8c)

    I would suggest a perusal of some of the vintage radio sites and/or E-Bay and search for the brand and model of the radio before taking them apart. While most are just $5 to $10 sets, you could be surprised someday.