Internews Center for Innovation & Learning

Internews Center for Innovation & Learning
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DIY radio - building a radio out of an MP3 reader

On 2012 Internews started a pilot project in the MENA region to attempt to see whether it was possible to create some sort of DIY radio using existing equipment easily available in a normal store or supermarket.

The underlying ideas was to see if, in case of emergency, it is possible for people to create and build by themselves a transmitter to be used to provide important information to the local population.  The Target audience for this project was basically average people who might be able to follow an illustrated, written manual to enhance the capabilities of in-car radio transmitters. The hypothesis behind this pilot was on the other side that DIY radio can be a solution for communication in humanitarian crises or other type of crisis, when the communication infrastructure may not be available.

The project started by testing several pieces of equipment and using the in-car transmitters because they are available and cheap. The team started by gathering the information needed on communication technologies available in several countries, testing weather it could be used to develop and enhance more useful tools for the sake of radio FM transmission.

The targeted equipment in this research included:

  • In-car MP3 FM transmitters
  • iPod FM transmitters
  • FM based wireless microphones
  • Low power FM transmitters
  • Mobile phones with FM transmission capabilities

During the first 2 weeks of the project the team made a research on all the FM low power transmitters used in the defined areas, mainly Jordan and Palestinian Territories, where they collected most of the available units available in the market to study the differences and the electronic components’. Around 12 different brands were found in the Palestinian market and almost similar number from Jordan.

 A comprehensive research on all the similar units, and other low power FM transmitters was also conducted online. Beside the practical experimental research the team started looking at the specifications and the data sheets of each unit and the electronic components’ differences in the units, including the power supply, audio inputs, data inputs, components, used circuits and the internal antennas. Data sheets of the most used electronic components’ involved in most of the IC CHIPS circuits’ were obtained from the manufacturing companies or online via the electronic websites.

The team studied all the electronic parts of each unit, measured all the power outputs of each unit before any modification, and compared that with data provided in the datasheets of the units. Test and studies were made on all the required units including some local made low power FM transmitters, ipod, iphone, nokia phones, built in units and FM external low power units.

The outcome of this pilot is actually a DIY radio transmitter and some interesting resources that we will be sharing here very soon. One is the list of recommended units to be used for the DIY radio, the cheapest ones and most available in the market (basically all MP3 FM transmitters) and the manual for the creation of the DIY radio.

The unit Internews came out with can be used with different audio sources including any microphones, for example the microphone used with computers for voice chat, the microphones which come with mobile phones for external use as well and others. The team also dscovered that a basic development of the unit without a professional antenna can increase the range of the unit to 300-450 meter of coverage, while a range of more than 500 meter can be achieved if the user will make a good transmission antenna and install the unit in a good transmission conditions (all of this will be explained clearly in the manual).

Here you can find our first product: a video walking you through the building of the device. Since the main target for now is audience in the MENA, the video is in Arabic. We are working on the translation of the video in English and on the creation of the manual in PDF, so that people will be able to build and use this device broadly. Stay tunes for more on this pilot project!