The Time Travel Radio, Mk. 1

Before the internet, before television, the first live instant communication was radio.  Radio is an incredibly powerful medium, even in its unidirectional and audio-only implementation.  FDR’s fireside chats, the Long Count, the live broadcast of the destruction of the airship Hindenburg … radio was there to tell the world what was happening.

For the media controller project for physical computing, we began the development of a ‘historical’ radio: rather than tuning to a station, you tune to a year to hear a broadcast of historical note.  Among the selections, there are speeches by Churchill, the radio Moscow announcement of Yuri Gagarin’s first trip into space, some Beatles, some B.B. King, and of course some selected advertisements (no, Wilkins Coffee ads are on TV, not on the radio).

The idea is for something that would make a good museum piece, that people can use to explore history, and that can stand on its own without a computer.  I wanted to stay away from the computerized stuff, because it’s not truthful.  If it’s going to be a radio, it should act like a radio, none of this ultra-glitzy projection stuff.  I’m trying to explain history, and to be true to it in at least a good measure.

The Outside

Jason and Lucas made a really great box, modeled on the Hallicrafters sets of the late 1950s and 1960s, designed by Raymond Loewy.

  DSC_0139  DSC_0124

The concept is to convey a sense of continuity with things that we are familiar with – it’s simple with two knobs (volume and tuning) and two switches, one for master power, and the other for internal lighting.

The box is a beautiful stained wood, in contrast to the metal/plastic Hallicrafters units.  the front panel is black lacquer covered masonite.
the galvanometer functions as a tuning indicator, the file plays when the needle is centered (and the proper year is reached on the rotating dial on the upper left).

The Innards

The system is based on an Arduino microcontroller, and Sparkfun MP3 trigger.  The MP3 trigger is pretty easy to use: by bridging or providing voltage to the set of pins on the left, you can play 7 files.  Serial control allows for playing 255 files, start/stop, and volume control.  It worked pretty well, until it died right before presenting, due to some sort of internal fault, as evidenced by the flashing diagnostic light.  I’m not sure why it failed, but it’s always a bad thing when a critical part dies at the wrong time.  I have a suspicion it could have been shorted on a screw embedded in the table surface, although when I contacted Sparkfun, they said they may have to reload the image on the EEPROM on the board.  Good for them, bad for me!

Mk. 2

for Mk. 2, priority is getting the MP3 trigger to not die at the wrong time.  Other priorities are using a better amplifier with physical volume control (and more power output), a multi-band tuning system for more ‘space’ and a few special surprises!


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