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Project Radio: introduction

What do you do when you have no radio in your kitchen, but still would like some music while you do the dishes? Well, the easy way would be to buy a radio, or to use phone/ipad/... to play music over WiFi. But then again, that's no challenge, is it? Wouldn't it be much cooler, not to mention more educational, to build one? That's how this project came about.

For starters, let's try to define what our radio should be and do, and what it should not be and do. This will give us some guidelines as to how to construct the radio. Some of the prerequisites are inherent in the project, others will be self-imposed. First of all, for this project I'm only considering an FM radio, since one of the stations I want to be able to listen to is Zen FM. That's the first requirement right there :-)

Furthermore, this is the shelf that the radio will sit on:

Shelf for the radio to sit on

As you can see, there are no power sockets in the neighborhood, so we'll have to aim for a battery-powered radio. There's requirement number two. Also, the radio will be in plain sight for everyone who enters the kitchen, so it would be nice if we could make it look good too. The shelf is fairly small, with a depth of 25 cm, and the radio will sit in front of some other stuff, so we're limited to say 15 cm depth maximum. The shelf is not designed to carry a lot of weight, so we'll have to aim for a compact package. If we want to keep somewhat "regular" dimensions, 15 cm max depth limits the acceptable width and depth anyway.

A working radio "core" is a must, but knobs, speaker and battery dangling from a PCB is a non-starter with respect to ease of use. Also, it would look like shit on the kitchen shelf. Standard electronics project boxes are available from many stores. They are convenient, however they are made from plastic or metal, and while functional, they are not really what I would consider good-looking enough for a "consumer grade" project. So, we're looking for something else. Wood and wood-like materials like MDF are easily available, and relatively easy to work with, so they are an "easy" choice for a custom case; however, previous experience indicates that making something functional is fairly easy, but making something beautiful on the other hand is not. Apart from the electronics, this will be the second big part of this project.

To round off this first installment of the radio project, our requirements list looks as follows:

  • Power The radio will be battery-powered, since we have both a size restriction, a weight restriction, and no power outlet nearby.
  • Size We can't go big, since the shelf is not very deep and already holds other things.
  • Looks We want something that looks good, since it will be sitting in plain sight on the kitchen shelf.
  • User experience We want something that is easy to use. During the dishes, you don't want to be tweaking settings, so it should be easy to set, and stay at the settings.

It looks like we've set us a nice set of goals to reach for in future installments :-)