A new use for an old radio

Plus: Spotify's price hike, a useful Google Maps tip, and a browser efficiency booster

June 4, 2024  | Read online

Hey there! I'm Jared Newman, a veteran tech journalist, and this is Advisorator, my weekly tech advice newsletter. Remember that as a paid subscriber, you can read every past issue online, access my helpful tech guides, and converse with your fellow subscribers (and me) on Slack. Thanks so much for supporting my work!

The mission was supposed to be simple: Drive to my father-in-law's house, head into the garage, and grab one of his spare garden hoses to replace the one I accidentally chopped in half with the lawnmower.

But in the process, something caught my eye along the garage's back wall, boxed up on a high shelf.

Still unopened in its original packaging was a GE Monogram 7-4150A radio, which according to RadioMuseum dates to around 1976. I don't like seeing old tech go to waste, so instinctively I wondered if it might still have some life in it. I brought it home with my father-in-law's permission—along with the garden hose, of course—though if we're being honest the radio was already in the car by the time I'd texted him about it.

To my delight, it works. Moreover, it just works. As I remarked on Mastodon a couple weekends ago, this piece of vintage tech requires no account creation, no pairing process, and no setup. You simply plug the radio in, and it starts playing the radio. I quickly made space for it in my office, if only to celebrate its beauty and simplicity.

Of course, I could not resist complicating things from there.

What's in my office now is not just a vintage radio, but a round-the-clock Newmy Radio station, broadcasting on 87.6 FM with an old smartphone and a $15 aux-to-FM transmitter. The Monogram 7-4150A still functions as a radio—with the same "it just works" immediacy of turning it on and hearing music—but most of the time it's tuned to a station that shuffles through one album at a time from my personal .FLAC collection.

It is one of the most joyful tech things I've ever set up. And you can install something similar in your home with the right parts.

Find a radio

What makes this concept work is the simplicity of playing music with the flip of a power switch. If you don't have an old radio on hand, consider a new radio with no other options or menu systems to get in the way.

That's not the easiest thing to find today, but Best Buy does sell portable standalone radios from Panasonic and Victrola (the latter also includes Bluetooth, but with a dial that can keep it on radio mode). There's also a retro-style radio under the zombified Studebaker brand. You could always venture onto eBay or Facebook Marketplace in search of actual vintage radios instead.

Grab an old phone

To set up your own radio station, you'll need a spare phone, tablet, or computer that you don't mind keeping powered on and playing music at all times. It should have a headphone jack—otherwise you'll need an adapter with both a power connector and a 3.5mm output—and it should be plugged into a charger as close to the radio as possible.

Having recently written about turning an old phone into a portable MP3 player, I already had a handful of phones sitting around, ready to be repurposed. (My method of getting a decent mid-range phone for $40 still works, by the way.)

Roll your own radio station

This piece of the puzzle brought me back to my college years, when iPods were everywhere but most cars didn't have 3.5mm inputs. As a workaround, I'd use an aux-to-FM transmitter to play the iPod's audio on a short-range station, which my car radio could pick up.

Such products still exist today, but most are designed for car power outlets (also known as the cigarette lighter). Fortunately I found a $15 transmitter that draws power over Micro-USB from a company called Beinhome. I plugged the transmitter into my phone's headphone jack and connected the Micro-USB cable to a charger, and it worked exactly as expected, playing whatever audio was coming from my spare phone.

Just add music

As for where your music will come from, the most important criteria is that it can play non-stop without any intervention. There are plenty of possibilities:

  • The simplest option is a free internet radio app such as Pandora, Amazon Music (whose free radio stations have no ads for Prime members), or perhaps SomaFM if your tastes veer toward the alternative.
  • Subscription streaming services such as Apple Music or Spotify can also work, but only if you have a family plan with an extra stream to spare.
  • With apps like Dark Noise for iOS or Atmosphere for Android, you could also use your radio to play ambient sound instead of music.

As for me, I'm using Plexamp, which streams from my personal music collection stored on a nearby Mac Mini. Setting up your own music server is a whole other project, but Plexamp's "Random Album Radio" feature is perfect for this scenario. When I turn on the radio, I'll often hear part of an album that I'd never have thought to play on my own.

The sensation is sort of like turning on the TV and catching a beloved movie at the midway point. It's hard to resist stopping to appreciate it.

Need to know

Spotify price hike: Spotify is raising prices for the second time in a year, so it now costs $12 per month for individuals, $17 per month for couples, $20 per month for families, and $6 per month for students. The price hike dovetails with Spotify'saudiobook push, as the service added 15 hours of audiobook listening per month last fall. There's no word yet on a cheaper plan without audiobooks, which was rumored by Bloomberg in April.

For now, the best way to save on Spotify is with annual gift cards, which you can buy for $99 apiece. (For Advisorator subscribers, my guide to spending less on streaming music has more tips.)

Grubhub+ for Prime members: It's not all bad news on the subscription front, as Amazon has added Grubhub+ as an extra Prime benefit. The food delivery service, which normally costs $10 per month, nixes delivery fees and reduces the service fees that Grubhub normally tacks onto each order. Prime members can activate the benefit and link their Grubhub accounts through Amazon's website.

Just note that Grubhub and its peers tend to jack up prices for the actual food. A sandwich from my nearest Jersey Mike's, for instance, costs $13.32 on both Grubhub and Doordash, versus $10.25 at the store, so you're paying a delivery surcharge regardless.

Microsoft Recall concerns: Security researcher Kevin Beaumont has written an alarming piece about Copilot+ Recall, a forthcoming Windows feature that automatically records all your on-screen activity and makes it searchable. That data, Beaumont claims, is stored in a plain-text database that's visible to anyone with admin access to the PC, so a remote attacker could potentially access the records through malware.

For now, Recall will only be available on new "Copilot Plus" PCs with Snapdragon X processors, but as Tom Warren notes, it's enabled by default on a pre-release version of those laptops, and there's no way to turn it off during the setup process. That's despite past promises by Microsoft to prioritize security over new features.

Tip of the moment

Make lists in Google Maps: The Newman family has a road trip vacation coming up, so I'm finally endeavoring to use the Lists feature in Google Maps, which lets you save locations for quick access. I've made a list for all the hotels and houses where we plan to stay, so I don't have to go looking for the addresses in my emails and text messages.

Depending on device, you'll find the List feature under either the "You" or "Saved" tab. Each list you create is shareable, and each saved address has a notes field, which is helpful for assigning nicknames such as "Portland hotel" or "Adam's house." Tapping a saved address takes you to its main Maps page, so you can quickly get directions.

One minor annoyance: Google Maps may sort your list with the most recently-edited items at the top. It's far more useful to sort by Distance from the drop-down menu instead.

Now try this

Preview any webpage: Over at Computerworld, my pal JR Raphael has uncovered a brilliant browser extension called MaxFocus, which lets you long-click on links in your browser to preview them in a pop-up window.

The feature is clearly inspired by Apple's Safari browser, which shows pop-up previews when you long-press a link on iOS or force-click a link on a Mac trackpad. (I'm really hoping "MaxFocus" is an intentional pun.) As JR points out, you can also preview pages in Chrome for Android by long-pressing a link and selecting "Preview Page."

MaxFocus is available for Chrome, Firefox, and any browser with Chrome Web Store support. It's free to use, with an optional paid upgrade for AI summaries and other extra features. (Thanks to JR's Android Intelligence newsletter for bringing it to my attention!)

My ultimate list of awesome apps includes nearly every useful app, extension, and website I've covered in Advisorator. I've just updated it to include everything I've mentioned over the past few weeks. Check it out →

Further reading

Spend wisely

I did not expect Apple's second-gen HomePod to still be on sale for $175 through Verizon today after spotting it in my deal alerts yesterday, but here we are. While I'm not enamored with Siri as a voice assistant, HomePod speakers are still a great way to play music via AirPlay. You can also pair them with an Apple TV to use in place of TV speakers or a soundbar. This deal is a $125 discount off the list price, and you needn't be a Verizon customer to take advantage.

Other notable deals:

Thanks for your support!

A big thank you, of course, is in order for my father-in-law, who unwittingly provided the fodder for this week's feature story. Thanks Doc!

Also, some housekeeping notes:

  • I've commissioned a guest feature story for next week as I'll be on the aforementioned family road trip. The rest of the newsletter will likely be a little shorter than usual.
  • The newsletter after that will go out on Wednesday, June 19, instead of Tuesday.

Got tech questions for me in the meantime? Just reply to this email to get in touch.

Until next week,

This has been Advisorator, written by Jared Newman and made possible by readers like you. Manage your subscription by clicking here, or reply to this email with "Unsubscribe " in the subject to cancel your membership.