How To Transform an 8-track Player into an iPod Speaker

Home Hacks

Though we all love to find the latest and greatest technology, sometimes it is finding new ways to repurpose vintage tech that makes me smile the most. With solid construction and quirky style, many vintage radios are still knocking around, fully functional and just crying out for hack to propel them into the 21st century. Though the sound quality won’t give Bose a run for its money, the grittiness brings back memories of how music used to sound, and you sure can’t beat the style!

What You Need

Materials
8 track player (mine is a Weltron 2001)
8-track adapter (I used a Kraco KCA-7A)
cassette adapter (I had one I used years ago to play CDs through my car's cassette player)
patience, determination, and a pioneering spirit

Tools
small screwdriver with lots of little bits- I used one designed for computer repair)
crochet hook (a knitting needle might also work but the hook part makes manipulating the belt easier)

Instructions

1. The first thing you need is a vintage 8-track player you want to convert. I was lucky- the lovely Weltron 2001 radio pictured above has been in the family since my aunt purchased it new back in the early 1970s. Though the 8-track player stopped working sometime in the early 1980s, the radio itself was always a favorite at family gatherings, and my sister claimed it for her own when my aunt moved back to Ireland in the late 1990s. If you (or your folks) can’t find an old 8-track player in the attic, garage, or basement, eBay is an excellent source, as are yard sales and thrift stores. (picture 2)

2. Fair warning here- I have absolutely no background in any kind of radio repair, and actually understand very little about the way old radios work. I got started breaking the Weltron down the only way I could- one screw at a time. These old radios were obviously designed to allow access for repair and so do break down in a surprisingly logical fashion. I used scraps of white paper with to isolate and label the screws as I removed them from each area; if you aren’t doing this all at once, or if you share your workspace, I suggest Ziploc bags or a pill box to keep things separated and organized. I was careful not to fiddle with any of the transistors/capacitors/etc, but if you know anything about radio repair, or you can find a service manual for your radio, you might be able to break it down further. (pictures 3-7)

3. Opening up the radio revealed strange pieces of hard icky rubber drifting through the case- a few minutes of research on the internet revealed the likely source was a corroded belt, which also explained the non-functioning 8-track. I hopped on eBay, did a quick search, and low and behold was able to get a set of 3 new belts for $15. When the belts arrived, I discovered there were three different sizes- I picked the middle one to try first and it worked out great (beginners luck I’m sure!) I won’t lie- trying to get the belt onto the rollers in the confined space of this radio was not easy, but with the help of a crochet hook (and a lot of cursing) I was finally able to get it in place. Unfortunately there are no pictures of this epic struggle because I needed one hand to hold the belt on the big wheel and one to pull the belt over the little wheel, but trust me- it will make sense to you when you get to that point. (pictures 8-9)

4. With a working 8-tracker player, I hopped online to see what kind of gizmos might help me update the radio, and discovered the Kraco KCA-7A, an adapter designed to play cassette tapes in an 8-track player. Since my sister has a box of old mix tapes and no tape player, I immediately ordered one on eBay for another $15. When I excitedly told my husband about this neat find, he laughed and told me he used one himself years ago because his first car had a built-in 8-track player. His adapter is apparently still in his dad’s garage, so again check with family before you hit eBay because people do hang onto strange things. (picture 13)

5. It was after the Kraco adapter arrived and I played my first tape that I had my Eureka moment. I have friends who play their iPod in the car using an old cassette adapter, and I suddenly realized that same adapter might allow me to play my iPod through the 8-track player. Since my last car had no CD player, I was actually able to dig the necessary cassette adapter out of my own garage this time. (pictures 14-15)

6. I popped the cassette adapter into the 8-track adapter plugged into the Weltron, I flipped the switches, crossed my fingers, turned on the iPod, and was quite frankly astonished to be greeted with the glorious sounds of my favorite travel playlist! (picture 1)

OK, "glorious sounds" might be a bit of an exaggeration- as I said this hack isn't going to give Bose a run for its money any time soon in terms of sound quality. Regardless, the iPod playing through the two adapters sounds better than the music on our actual 8-tracks which is rather amusing. I love the thought of using this Weltron/iPod collaboration at our next party, and the satisfaction of being able to extend the life and utility of this classic 1970s radio made the $30 investment in parts well worth it.

My friends are split between the "wow that's cool" and "wow you're weird" camps; I confess I'm hoping that some readers here will share my enthusiasm for this project. Thoughts? Recommendations? 8-track hacks of your own?


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(Images: Colleen Quinn)

Originally posted 06.18.2009