I restored a 1936 Marconi Model 80 (and then I networked it).
I’ve always liked big and blocky old things. Things made of wood. Things from that bygone era where any item essentially doubled as furniture. So, in September of 2021 I received a text from my dad. He was at an antique show with my mum. There was a radio, not working, for $35. Did I want it? Damn right I did.
So, for the low price of $35 Canadian dollars, I had myself a nice feature piece for my home. But it couldn’t really be broken, could it?
On the front of the radio there are four knobs. These control: power, volume, band selection (shortwave, police band, AM), and frequency.
Each knob is connected to the actual radio via a metal rod, which you can see in the included GIF.
At some point. the metal rod for the power knob had broken. The knob was currently being held in place with a wooden dowel, and a dab of glue. Purely decorative. Surely that could be fixed though, and the radio wasn’t truly broken?
I mean it couldn’t be that hard to fix a radio. Right?
So I took it apart.
I should probably note here I have no idea how the radio works, and really don’t have an understanding of electrical engineering. Ohms? Oscillators?
Not a clue.
Taking it apart revealed a mess of wiring, and god knows what from the mid-1930s. At this point, I really hoped it was just the power knob being stuck in the off position. Getting a closer look, the metal shaft had broken off well inside. But, despite a liberal use of pliers, I was unable to turn it back to the on position.
At that point, again not really knowing where I’d find a replacement for a mid-30s power toggle, I considered completely gutting it. I could put a new modern amplifier into it, and either wire up the existing speaker or get a new one. Heck, the thing that I think is the power toggle might not even be the power toggle. The entire thing could just be truly dead.
But, then I figured I may as well give it a shot and see if I could bring it back to life. It would be a shame to destroy something so old without checking. Especially something that’s managed to escape disposal for 85 years.
So, I unsoldered the power toggle and removed it from the radio. I luckily live within walking distance to a commercial electronics supplier, so I headed over hoping to just find something.
“Hey, this is going to be a weird question. I’m trying to repair a 1930s radio. Do you have any power toggles. You know, with the rotating knob?”
“Oh…that might be difficult. Let me show you what we have though.”
I was then presented with an aisle of options.
“Do you know what type it is?”
Digging through, I found one that was sort of similar. It had two prongs on the side though, not the three I needed. Maybe I didn’t need all of them though? Looking closer at it, the power rating was different than what was stamped on the part I had removed. 125v. I needed 250v.
“Any chance you have this in 250 volts?”
“Oh, no, sorry.”
“Ah, no worries then, I’ll just look around.”
So, walking around the store, I ended up in a different aisle with even more things that looked like the part I had removed. Looking through them, I found one with the three prongs on the side and the two beneath that I needed. Still 125 volts though. Not really knowing if it was the same part, or if it would work, I figured for $7 it was worth the try. So I bought it.
Taking it back home, I soldered the wires back into a similar position to what they had been on the previous toggle, and then screwed it all back into place. Worst case scenario is that it still didn’t work, and I could just gut it.
Well, worse case scenario is that I have no idea what I’m doing and could cause a small electrical fire, but…
So I plugged it in, turned the knob all…voila! It works! The tubes, they glow! And it works!
Fantastic! I have a working radio. And so from late October to late December, the radio sat much like it would have in 1936.
But the idea of gutting it still stuck with me. Not the idea of destroying it, but the idea of making it do what it can’t do as a device from 1936. That is, play external music.
So I decided to see if I could stuff an additional amplifier and an old Chromecast Audio inside of it. The Chromecast Audio was a device manufactured by Google that allowed you to turn any set of speakers into “smart speakers”. It was basically a tiny puck with a 3.5mm/optical port that could be accessed over Wi-Fi. They sadly stopped making them in 2019, but I have several.
So I scrounged up my spare Chromecast, an old T-Amp, and speaker wire (I have a lot of spare electronic things) and got to work.
(I swear I don’t have an electronics hoarding problem problem)
Easy enough, I could just run wires from the amp to the contacts on the speaker, and it would pass on any signal. I had a smart radio! I briefly considered soldering the wires into place, but didn’t want to do any permanent change/damage to the device. I figured alligator clips might do the trick, as I could just clamp them onto the contacts. So I got some, stripped them, and they worked.
I now have a 1936 Marconi Model 80 I can cast my music to. I also stuck it on a smart switch so I can power it up with a Google Home.
Next steps are to replace the speaker grill (it’s ripped in a spot) and properly connect the wood knob to the power toggle. But, for now, I’m completely satisfied with my radio.