It’s been quite a few weeks around the studio. In addition to the “regular” work of writing music, a few extra-curricular projects are keeping things spicy here. One is the annual low-volume hecticity of the Quiet Music Festival, which I record live to 2-track tape (what else?) every year.
Another Festival-themed endeavor is Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival, taking place the same weekend across the country in Boston. In collaboration with the WonderWord poetry project, I was asked to modify a few vintage radios to play back site-specific poems at the MASS MoCA.
The two radios pictured above are the venerable Emerson “888” series, one of the first inexpensive transistors. This model has been “hacked’ for smartphone playback by others, and directions and schematics are readily available. While I had the units cracked open, I replaced electrolytic capacitors and sprayed out the volume control for good measure.
Next up was this lovely Philco unit from the early 50s:
The main challenge here was making this unit safe to interface with other devices. The “hot chassis” paradigm is fine, more or less, if the radio is used as a standalone device. But the design introduces the possibility–probability, really–that “ground” actually has wall potential (120VAC). And if connected to another device, as required for this project, there would be the very real potential of putting this device into the user’s phone, and therefore hand. While some of you have no problem blowing up other people’s new iPhones, I didn’t want to share this liability with the program organizers, who by and large seemed to be decent folk.
So in addition to the “normal” rebuild of replacing all electrolytic (and most film) capacitors, plus important and “toasted” resistors and other components, this job required the addition of a proper ground connection, fuse and isolation transformer to provide some buffer against wall voltage. In this case I used the Triad N-68x, which is a useful and economical unit for the job. Because modern voltages are so much higher than those the radio was designed for, I wired the transformer “backwards” to induce a slight voltage drop.
Blah blah blah. The point is, this unit–in addition to being extremely cool-looking–is now safe. For those excited by such images, here’s what the inside looked like after I was done.
I hope some of you can swing by MASS MoCA to check out the poetry project for yourselves. Let me know how the radios are working!