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A Tinkering Workshop: Make a Scratch "Radio"

Simulate an old time radio with Scratch and Picoboard.
I don’t know many kids- teens anyway- who listen to the radio. With iTunes and streaming services like Spotify becoming so ubiquitous, radio must seem like antiquated technology to the digitally savvy. But, it is important for kids to know that radio has a rich history of providing music, information and stories to generations before them. I wanted to use Scratch in a way that would simulate old radio broadcasts, to give kids a sense of what it must have been like to hover over a wooden box with tubes, dials and ever-present static.

This project was initially used in a program to orient kids to services in a public library. The radio “broadcasts” are puzzles that led to a particular thing in the library. The Scratch program listed in the links has sound files that you can listen to if you want to try the puzzles yourself. What do they lead to?

I am now focused on using the radio with older kids who can build their own version and use it with sound files of old radio recordings. There is a short demo video in the links of a history project on the the suffrage movement in the U.S.

The radio is housed in a cardboard box and it has a potentiometer, a speaker and an optional on/off switch. The potentiometer (I used a 10K ohm version) is a variable resistor (cost around a dollar) that is read by the Picoboard. The values are sent to Scratch where I programmed particular sounds file to play when the potentiometer is within a certain range. The accompanying Scratch project shows how this is done.

I presented the radio alone on a tabletop. Although it was connected to the computer, it sat several feet away: what was like long ago to marvel that a small box could connect us to the world?