Maker challenge: FM radio kit for third world children


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


Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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