Maker challenge: FM radio kit for third world children

Becky Stern

Becky Stern (sternlab.org is a DIY guru and director of wearable electronics at Adafruit. She publishes a new project video every week and hosts a live show on YouTube. Formerly Becky was Senior Video Producer for MAKE. Becky lives in Brooklyn, NY and belongs to art groups Free Art & Technology (“release early, often, and with rap music”) and Madagascar Institute (“fear is never boring”).

50 Articles

By Becky Stern

Becky Stern (sternlab.org is a DIY guru and director of wearable electronics at Adafruit. She publishes a new project video every week and hosts a live show on YouTube. Formerly Becky was Senior Video Producer for MAKE. Becky lives in Brooklyn, NY and belongs to art groups Free Art & Technology (“release early, often, and with rap music”) and Madagascar Institute (“fear is never boring”).

50 Articles

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Thomas Wiltherspoon is the director of Ears to Our World, a charitable organization bringing access to information via self-powered shortwave radio to the third world, and he’s looking for help from makers like you:

I’ve always wanted to give our radios directly to children, but reality is, these kids live in some very impoverished areas and it could make them a target of theft if they tried to carry home one of our commercially produced Grundig FR200s, for example.

In a perfect world, though, I would like to provide kids with a small FM or shortwave, snap together, modular radio kit they they could build without needing a soldering iron. Something very, very simple. I’ve always envisioned this being a small radio that operates off of a single AA cell and has an led lamp. It could, perhaps, be powered by a small detachable PV panel.

Something like this could be given to kids and, if a component breaks–say, a speaker or FM receiver–they could simply replace that part instead of trashing the whole unit. Not only would it teach kids a little about radio, but it would be a practical way for them to receive either community FM stations or SW radio broadcasts–life-giving information, in many cases.

Our ideal radio would have the following features:

  • A price tag of less than $10 US
  • Operation off of one AA battery
  • Modular, snap together design which would make for easy assembly and field service
  • Reception of FM and/or SW bands.
  • Small, bright LED lamp.
  • Small, functional speaker or earphones

A bonus would be if replacement parts could be available locally and would give discarded items a new life–for example, using a plastic bottle as the radio container.

The project almost sounds unrealistic, but I’m certain that somewhere out there in the Maker community there is the knowledge to make this radio a reality.

Check out the Wall Street Journal article about Ears to Our World, and ff you’re interested in getting involved, drop an email to [email protected].