Old radio enthusiast please don’t send me hate mail after reading this blog. I know many of you will frown on what I have done to this 80+ year old radio. I promise you this Zenith will get tons more use in its current condition rather than in original form.
The project consisted of gutting the original electronics from the radio and replacing them with newer more modern tech. Resulting in a working radio that still has the spirit of the original.
Parts List – Hardware
An older Microsoft Surface Pro 3 – I don’t recommend you go out and purchase a surface for this project. Re-purposing and old laptop, or tablet is ideal to keep the cost down. I’m sure you could even use a Raspberry Pi with an external display. I just happened to have an old Surface that needed a new job.
A set of used computer speakers with sub woofer – Again I had a set of speakers laying around that were not in use. Perfect for this project. If you need to buy a set, Logitech makes some great sets for about $40 at Amazon
Wireless keyboard and mouse – Once the radio is set up you will need a way to control it externally. A wireless keyboard and mouse connected to the system gives you a ton of flexibility to control the system. If you don’t have a spare to use they are only $30 to pick up
A simple USB microphone (optional) – During testing I found that the microphone built into the surface tablet is unable to hear me while playing loud music. Moving the microphone externally avoids this issue. These are very inexpensive $30 or less at Amazon
Parts List – Software
Windows 10 – I picked Windows 10 only because it worked best on the the hardware I was using. Obviously if you decided to use an Android tablet or Raspberry Pi your OS would vary
Alexa app for Windows – I personally like Alexa and her functionality, however you may be a Cortana fan or like some other voice command software. The Voice command software is important for controlling this device.
Some cool radio face desktop images – This is purely cosmetic and makes the project look beautiful.
VNC – For remotely controlling the unit
Assembly of the Zenith
Zenith radios have a great design. The entire radio can be removed from its cabinet in one piece. My unit had 4 bolts holding it in and after removing them the entire chassis slid right out. The next step was to remove the antenna module and speaker from the lower portion of the cabinet.
My original design had me scanning and using the original face plate as the artwork however that idea was scrapped when I accidentally ruined the face. Just a word of caution – don’t use any alcohol based cleaner on the dial of the radio or yours will wind up looking like mine!
The solution to my dial issue was to scourer the internet and find similar artwork. I was able to find the exact artwork and so much more. THANK YOU INTERNET!
installing the new hardware into the Zenith
Another goal of the project was to keep everything modular. Making it easy to return the radio to 1940’s design if I ever wanted to. The surface tablet fit into place perfectly with a small block of wood and a few shims. I was very pleased with the fit of the Surface. It basically wedged itself into the radio cabinet and didn’t need any
extra brackets or supports.
As you can see in the image to the left the surface is positioned vertically in the radio and fits perfectly.
A really old computer speaker system was installed. (I think they are 20+ years old). The sub woofer was installed on the top shelf directly behind the Surface and the two satellite speakers were mounted directly above the original speaker grill.
Finally a power strip was mounted to the inside of the cabinet to give the surface and speakers power.
Cool Zenith Radio Faces
The radio faces were added as JPG files to Windows, and the computer was instructed to play a slide show, changing the face ever 60 seconds or so. Its subtle but cool. Every time you glance over at the radio its displaying a different period correct dial.
Finally a few software tweeks
Power options were set to allow the surface to sleep after an hour. Windows was configured not to require a password on startup, Alexa app was configured to auto start on boot.
VNC was also installed on the Surface so I could remote control the unit from my other workstations.
The Zenith project was fun and retaliative easy and inexpensive to do. Many of you may say why not restore it to original condition, and the simple fact is I would never use it. The bands the original radio received are defunct and to use it as an AM only radio made no sense. Now the unit can access my XM radio, Pandora, Amazon Music and so much more.
I hope this project inspires you to do a restoration of your own radio!
Thank you for reading my blog,