New Life for an Old Radio

This has to be one of our favorite home DIY projects so far.  We’re going to try a combined “voice” blog post here so bear with us… confusion possibly ahead…

Background (Tim): I stumbled onto this beautiful mid-1930’s Philco radio years ago at a Cape Cod antique store and had to have it. It was in rough shape. It obviously has taken some water damage over the years, the grill was torn, the knobs were missing, the speaker was beyond repair, and I didn’t even try plugging it in to see if the amp worked. But the visible wear added a lot of charm to it. I was sure it would look great as a side table in any room, and at $25, I couldn’t say no to picking it up.

The Idea (Jen): Obviously, this radio is beautiful and an amazing addition to any room. But, it’s a little sad that aging and poor care had reduced it to a decorative end table. (FYI the pic above is an after picture, we forgot to take a before picture - darnit!) Tim and I wanted to bring it back to it’s original glory, by turning it back into a sound-producing-device.

Tim’s Plan: Initially, I had all these grand schemes in place to very literally restore this radio. I read about vintage radio amplifiers to see if I could learn enough to repair the old tube amp and AM receiver that were in there, and then replace the deteriorated speaker. As a part of this, I was hoping to learn how to rewire the receiver to add an input for MP3 players or a turntable. Obviously, this would be a huge undertaking, so naturally it got put off for years and years. After a while, bringing this radio back to life seemed like it would never happen…

Jen’s Plan: Because I have no idea what I’m talking about when it comes to audio equipment, I assumed this would be a super easy project.  After looking over the innards, I thought we should take out the old broken speaker, put in new speakers (Tim had some upstairs that would fit beautifully), then attach those speakers to a bluetooth-connection-device-thingy. I totally didn’t understand why Tim thought things would be hard… then we realized the difference in our plan that you’ve already picked up on.

The Process (Tim): When the switch went off in my head about what Jen meant, it seemed so simple I can’t believe I’d overlooked it. And since I had a pair of small powered studio speakers collecting dust upstairs, we could get right to work on setting it up.

Here’s how we did it:
We went to Home Depot and got a couple of tiny strips of wood from the scrap bin (for $2 I think) and cut them to the right length so it would make a tiny platform inside the radio for the speakers to sit on.
I carefully removed the original speaker and placed it next to the amplifier inside the radio, so I can restore it to its original condition if I ever feel the urge (I’m big on making sure mods aren’t permanent - especially on antiques).
Then, we pulled out the torn grill and Jen stapled in some burlap, which makes a nice substitute!
For the finishing touch, I was actually able to find replica knobs for this exact model radio online.

One thing I wanted to completely avoid, though, was having to have wires running across the room to play mp3s on it. That’s where the magic comes in. I bought us one of these. It’s a bluetooth music receiver, which basically allows any computer or device with bluetooth to connect to it. Any iPhone / Laptop / iPod with bluetooth can stream its audio output over to it without lag, and from any software, whether it’s internet radio, iTunes, or youtube. It’s seriously a great piece of gear - I’ve since bought 3 more, so every room in our apartment has access to wireless music!

The Result (Jen): A video is worth a bazillion words in this case …

The Philco sings again! We love love love being able to listen to our music whenever we want, and in great style to boot.  Plus, at parties our friends can play their music from their own iphones, allowing for tons of fun and sharing of the novelty.

Hey… I think we did it… a combined post.  Hopefully you aren’t completely lost, but we had fun!

This post was liked up with a Funky Junk Interiors linky party!


  1. Oh my!

    I also have a Philco mid-30's full sized radio :) I just love it.

    And, yep, it's a glorified end table.

    I had researched enough to know not to plug it in and turn it on - warning will Robinson. So, there it sits.

    This might be just the thing for bringing life back to the ol' gal. Bluetooth, eh?

    Thank you SO much for posting this.

  2. Oh you totally should! It was really pretty easy and has been so much fun for our home.

  3. This is a fabulous idea - love it!

  4. My hubby restores old radios...we have more than 30 (a couple look just like this one) and most of them work :) But not quite like this :) I'll suggest it to him though.