The following article was published in the June 2007 issue of The Old Radio Times, the monthly newsletter of the Old Time Radio Researchers group. This copy has been slightly edited and updated for the web. - JG


Radio Nostalgia

By Joseph Gray


“Radio Nostalgia—Bringing the best of Old Time Radio to our little corner of Las Cruces.” If you are within about one mile of my house, you can hear that announcement on the AM dial, every hour of the day. I run a flea-powered radio station, so that I can share my rather large OTR collection with my extended neighborhood.

My interest in OTR began several years ago, when I purchased some OTR from one of the many internet vendors. I soon found that I could get much more and better OTR for free by joining some of the Yahoo! groups that share CD’s. Now, with the widespread availability of high-speed internet, downloading has replaced much of the CD swapping.

Being an electronics hobbyist and a Ham, I thought it would be fun to have an old tube radio to listen on, for my own personal enjoyment. I found a 1932 Philco cathedral radio on ebay for a good price, and a new hobby of restoring old radios began (I have since acquired and restored several vintage radios).

Now that I had an authentic vintage radio to listen on, I needed an AM transmitter to broadcast my OTR. After doing some research, I settled on the very popular SSTRAN kit. As others have said, this is a dynamite kit, with excellent audio and a great price.

So there I was, happily listening to OTR on authentic old radios. Having a wealth of OTR, I was happy to share my collection with friends by burning a few CDs. I thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be nice if I could share my love of OTR with everyone in town?” Not being wealthy enough to buy a commercial radio station, I found another, somewhat limited way. That way is called “Part 15”.

The Federal Communications Commission has rules that cover all aspects of radio frequency usage. Part 15 of those rules covers everything from cordless phones to computers, to MP3 players. It also spells out a legal way to broadcast on the AM band. Specifically, Section 219 of Part 15 allows you to use a transmitter with 100mW (one tenth of a Watt) into the final amplifier of the transmitter and an antenna of 3 meters or less. This is a very small amount of power and a very short antenna at the frequencies used on the AM band. Nevertheless, if done properly, you can be heard up to one mile or more on a car radio. The range on an indoor radio will be somewhat less.

The SSTRAN kit that I purchased is Part 15 compliant when assembled according to the instructions. There are also fully assembled transmitters available from Talking House, Hamilton, Chez Radio and others. These assembled transmitters are Part 15 “certified”. Certification is required by the FCC for a transmitter that is to be sold as an assembled unit. This certification process adds significantly to the selling price. If you want a more plug-and-play solution and can afford the price, one of the assembled units is the way to go.

If you want to buy a kit, make sure you assemble it yourself, or perhaps have a friend assemble it for you. It is illegal for anyone to sell assembled kits for Part 15 use, as at least one well-meaning individual has found out.

As my broadcasting adventure was to be financed by myself, I wanted to keep costs down. I purchased a weatherproof box and assorted hardware at the local Lowe’s. I found plans for a base-loaded, outside antenna on the SSTRAN web site. This antenna is simple to build and gives about the best possible range from the SSTRAN transmitter. While building the antenna, I made a few changes to streamline the appearance. I forwarded these changes to Phil at SSTRAN and he graciously posted my PDF on his web site.

After getting the transmitter and antenna mounted on the roof and running wire for power and audio, I was almost ready to broadcast. After the initial setup, I wanted my radio station to operate with minimal hands-on. For this, I needed an automation program and a computer. Luckily, I had the spare parts to build a Pentium 4 computer. The automation software took some research. There are several commercial automation programs available. One of the least expensive is called SAM from Spacial Audio.

I almost went with SAM, until I found a free program called ZaraRadio. ZaraRadio does most of what the commercial programs do and it is sufficient for my needs. ZaraRadio is more powerful than it would seem at first glance. Make sure you download the English User Manual and experiment with the software a bit.

After spending some time getting my OTR collection better organized, I transferred everything to my automation computer. I currently have two 200GB drives in the computer. One holds the OTR files and the other is a backup. I’ll soon need larger drives, as my OTR collection continues to grow. In ZaraRadio, I setup some simple playlists, which are started hourly by the program, via “events”.

My station has been on the air 24/7 since mid-March. I broadcast a regular program of OTR from 6AM to Midnight. After Midnight, I broadcast music from the 1920’s to the 1950’s. Hourly, I automatically ID my station as “Radio Nostalgia, 1680 on your AM dial”. Periodically throughout the day, I have scheduled an announcement about the Part 15 status of my station, so no one thinks that I’m running a pirate radio station.

Although I am not able to cover my entire town, I do cover a large extended neighborhood. I know that some of my neighbors listen. To spread the word, I have printed some flyers, which I plan to distribute around the area. In my grandiose dreams, I would like to extend my broadcast coverage by adding more transmitters around town. If this happens at all, it will have to wait until more funds are available.

Some of you may be asking why I did this. I did it mostly because I wanted to let others share the joy of OTR, and partly because it was a fun project. If you are interested in what you can do with Part 15 broadcasting, the best resource on the internet is If you have questions, join the gang there and I or someone else will be happy to help.

One final note. If you intend to broadcast more than a few hundred feet, AM is the only legal way to do this under Part 15 rules. FM power limits are severely limited under Part 15, making it only good for “yardcasting”.


This article is copyright 2007 by Joseph Gray. All rights reserved.