Antique Radio Computer Build

Antique Radio?

Over the course of the past six months or so, I've been working on rebuilding an antique stand-up radio console as a gift for my girlfriend. Here's a quick rundown of the process:

Hardware setup

  • First, we got a five-ish foot radio console from an antique store. We thought the price was pretty reasonable.
  • Once I got it to her house, I removed all of the internal components. This included a big old tube-driven radio tuner and amplifier.
  • Then, I took apart an old Dell Optiplex (I forget the exact model number)... It was approximately a 900MHz machine with 256MB of RAM.
  • I mounted the PC parts (power supply, hard drive, CDROM) on the shelf on the inside of the cabinet, along with an external USB hard drive for media storage.
  • I also mounted a small (7-inch) screen using a bracket that had once held it on the old Commodore 64 synth board (see this post for a pic of the original use).
  • Then, I took some old but still decent-sounding Fisher speakers, and mounted them on the inside. I wired them into a Symetrix 30w power amp that came out of a local radio station. I then plugged the amp into a device that detected when the PC was turned on, via USB, so it would turn off when the radio's not in use.
  • As a finishing touch, I added a power switch on the front, in the form of a doorbell from Home Depot. To cover the holes where the various control knobs were, I stuck a couple of nice-looking brass filigrees.

Software Setup

  • As a base OS, I of course used Arch Linux (because I'm sort of obsessed).
  • I looked around at a few media server options, and first decided to try MPD and Ampache. This would allow her to access her media via a web browser. However, Ampache aims to be an all-in-one streaming music server, with its own MySQL database and everything, and that was a bit of overkill for this little machine -- plus the interface wasn't quite as streamlined as I'd like, though it is certainly full-featured. Fortunately I quickly found that there are lots of frontends/clients for MPD that integrate more directly and use MPD's own library and playlists. This ended up being pretty cool, because she can use a client on her Mac, called Theremin, to create playlists and whatnot, and those same playlists show up on any client she uses -- including on the the LCD screen on the radio itself, as well as on the clients for her iPhone and my Droid.
  • The screen on the radio displays the machine's actual console. It automatically logs in and runs a GNU Screen containing an instance of another MPD client, ncmpcpp. It shows the current playlist and currently playing song... plus it's nice to have an actual console for debugging purposes. And I figured not running an X server would add to my geek cred... :)
  • I also wrote a couple of scripts for her to run on her Mac, to sync her iTunes library over to it (using rsync over ssh) and to shut it down.

Check out some pics of the process:

Radio Build Process - 1 of 15 Radio Build Process - 2 of 15 Radio Build Process - 3 of 15 Radio Build Process - 4 of 15 Radio Build Process - 5 of 15 Radio Build Process - 6 of 15 Radio Build Process - 7 of 15 Radio Build Process - 8 of 15 Radio Build Process - 9 of 15 Radio Build Process - 10 of 15 Radio Build Process - 11 of 15 Radio Build Process - 12 of 15 Radio Build Process - 13 of 15 Radio Build Process - 14 of 15 Radio Build Process - 15 of 15

Modified Wednesday, March 24, 2021