1940s Philco radio sings again with new Raspberry Pi heart

Redditor spyderN8 happened upon a holy grail-level find at their local antique store last year: a 1940s Philco radio. And it cost them less than $50! Either the maker is a champion haggler or American antique shops aren’t quite the racket they are over here in the UK.

Sound up: the clunky buttons sound even better than the music

The maker had five criteria this project had to fit:

  • Keep the general look
  • No touchscreen interface – all driven by physical buttons
  • Internet connection not required
  • Keep the original eight-button selector
  • Must be spouse-approved
philco jukebox

I guess this last one is because the finished project would be on display at home and janky-looking stuff is not welcome. Keeping the original eight-button selector was a hassle worth powering through, because the maker was able to retain the clunky sound you get when you press the buttons. The video above is a vintage collector’s aural dreamscape.

“Ker-chunk” buttons for the win!

The original radio buttons still made the lovely ker-chunk sounds, but they couldn’t do much else. SpyderN8 found a solution to retain the sound when the old buttons were pressed and operate new buttons behind the scenes to perform the radio station-changing function.

philco jukebox insides
New buttons doing their job silently in the background while the original buttons make the critical ker chunk sound out front

Each of the new buttons is pre-programmed to select a particular radio station running through a computer-based radio scanner. spyderN8 sourced the buttons from renovatedradios.com.

Old tech, new spec

Almost every single GPIO pin on Raspberry Pi 4 is used in this project. A 7.9-inch capacitive touch LCD screen provides an oscilloscope-style display showing the sound waves on the front of the radio.

Raspberry Pi 4 and new electronics for the Philco radio jukebox retrofit
Tiny new electrical components hiding inside the giant floor radio

New clear sounds

fosiaudio amp
Modern audio booms from the 80+ year old radio shell thanks to a Fosi Audio system

Sound is provided courtesy of a Fosi Audio BT30D amp, along with two KICKER CS Series speakers and a Goldwood 12″ woofer. You can also connect to the Fosi amp via Bluetooth which makes this build extra spouse-approved — you can play anything you like if the hard-coded radio options aren’t hitting the right notes.


Anders avatar

I’ve done several Pye radios, and one Murphy each with orange LEDs to simulate the valve (tube) glow through the cooling grid. Mine have internal DAB/FM tuners, amps and speakers.
The challenge is to maintain the mechanical tuning using the mechanical variable capacitor.

Ashley Whittaker avatar

Nice! Have you got photos stashed somewhere online we can all have a nosey at?..

Michael Lauck avatar

As a former VIP/antique service tech for a major amplifier manufacturer and restorer of tube radios (I have that same Philco in my office) as much as I love the Pi seeing this breaks my heart
a little bit.

WB5BKL - Nick avatar

My folks had the table model version of this Philco and my friend’s parents had your model – but with remote control (via a battery-powered [semi-] handheld transmitter)… Listened to the BBC war news on them.

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