Turning a retro radio into an iPod dock

I may have mentioned before that I'm thinking about hosting a late '50s themed holiday party.

Perfect for setting the scene will be my Formica-and-chrome table, my Formica, boomerang-shaped coffee table and my Kromex kitchen canisters.

 

Not so '50s-themed are the clunky secondhand computer speakers I use as an iPod dock.

 

So I started thinking, “I wonder if I can find a retro-style iPod dock.”


Turns out, you can buy them. But $150 is a little out of my price range, even if the dock looks like it came straight out of my grandparents' living room 60 years ago.

 

So, of course, I wondered if I could turn an old radio into an iPod dock myself. A quick Google search turned up only a few resources, including this blog post. It gave me hope, although I still wasn't sure I had the skills to do it myself.

 

I set out to find a vintage radio. Scott Lindberg (who's been featured in The News-Gazette for his intereste in Mid-Century Modern style) suggested I try Winter Wheat Antiques in St. Joseph.

 

Rob and I finally got a chance to go Saturday. If you haven't been there and are interested in anything old, it's definitely an experience.

 

We found a little black-and-red radio (my favorite color combination) that had seen better days. The cardboard back was disintegrating, the power cord had been cut and a large chunk of the bottom was broken and part of it was missing. I think it's made of Bakelite.

 

For me, it worked for several reasons. It meant no guilty feelings about gutting a working vintage radio. Plus, the price was great. Originally priced at $12.50, we showed up for Winter Wheat's harvest sale, so it was 50 percent off. The working radios cost quite a bit more, but still not as much as that Crosley iPod dock I linked to above.

 

Rob and I took the radio back to my house. We cleaned the pieces and knobs that detached, wiped the rest of the radio down with a soft cloth and dishwater and pulled out the guts. We took out the AM radio and speaker but left the mechanism for the clock, in case we can ever figure out a way to get it working again.

 

We also took apart the aforementioned computer speakers. We superglued them inside the body of the radio, and then cut down a small piece of quarter-inch plywood for the board to rest on.

 

Unlike the blogger who did this first, we didn't desolder anything. However, the power button and volume button were next to each other on the board. The radio's design didn't allow for that, so it required some improvising. We left the power button in the "on" position and placed the speakers' volume control just inside the hole where the volume knob is supposed to go.

 

The radio's actual volume knob wasn't quite long enough to reach the speakers' volume control, so Rob whittled down a piece of Popsicle stick (I knew I'd been saving sticks for a reason!). He glued one end inside the knob, and trimmed down the other end thin enough to fit in the slit inside the volume control.

It took some careful work, but the result works like a charm. You can see a photo of the knob below. (The radio tuning knob is also attached to a Popsicle stick and is purely for decoration at this point.)

 

We carefully secured the board by creating rails of sorts with more Popsicle sticks. Rob said he was concerned about getting too much glue on the board itself. And we glued down what he said was the transformer, as well.

 

I cut a piece of cardboard down to size for the back, making notches for the line in (which connects to the iPod) and the power cord. We tested the speakers throughout the process, just to make sure we weren't yanking too hard and they were still working.

 

This project was a total hack, but it worked. Rob does have some knowledge of electricals, but we didn't do any sort of rewiring. The volume knob solution required the most thought. Other than that, this project was a breeze. It probably took about two hours total, including careful cleaning. There are some stains, but I think it gives the radio character.

 

I'm a little surprised that this idea worked and that it was relatively easy. It may be the coolest thing I own.

 

Photos, from top to bottom:

 

- I, of course, forgot to take a before photo. This is the inside of the radio after we glued in the speakers.

 

- The volume knob with its Popsicle stick.

 

- The finished radio and my iPod. Side note – Stomberg-Carlson still exists, but it looks like the company no longer makes radios.

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