Design

In Praise of Sound Design: Introducing the Public Radio

July 25, 2017

*Editor’s note: The Public Radio – Single Station Tuner is coming soon to our assortment. Get it first by pre-ordering here.

Modernity can be a little overwhelming. Don’t get us wrong, of course; the internet is an amazing tool, and smartphones make virtually everything easier, from navigating the wildlands otherwise known as the subway system to finding out whether it’s going to rain in fifteen minutes or if that cloud’s just looking a bit more angry than usual. We agree: These are all good things. But sometimes an escape from the wealth of information our era provides seems awfully luxurious. Sometimes you just want to turn your phone off for like, one second. And sometimes you’d rather not wonder which one of the hundreds of thousands of podcasts out there you should listen to today. You’d rather flip a switch, hear one thing (and one thing only), and move on with your life, complex as it already is.

Spencer, left, and Zach

Enter the Public Radio – Single Station Tuner, brainchild of media and sound technologist Zach Dunham and his childhood friend Spencer Wright, a manufacturing strategist. A breath of fresh air among the seemingly endless streaming options in today’s digital landscape, the Public Radio – Single Station Tuner radically simplifies your listening experience. Tuned to a single FM station of your choice, it has only one knob, for volume control. And while lowercase public radio (or, y’know, Hot 97) devotees will appreciate the ease with which they can tune into their favorite station, design aficionados will take to the gadget’s thoughtful construction, which allows it to fit into any wide-mouth Mason jar—not only the cute, compact half-pint variety it ships with.

But wait. A single-station FM radio? In a Mason jar? You heard—er, read—us right. It’s a unique idea, to be sure, and one several years in the making. “In 2014,” Zach says, “Spencer and I were both taking an online course from MIT called 6.002x—a required course for all electrical engineering majors. At the end of the course I wanted to work on a project that would keep me learning about electronics. I decided on making a single station radio because of the overlap with the coursework and my love for radio [and] ultimately convinced Spencer to work on it with me.”

With their single station idea, Zach and Spencer sought out to streamline and simplify the act of tuning into your favorite station. “We thought a lot about the relationship we have with complicated devices,” Zach notes, “like our phones—where the choices and interactions are endless—and wanted to make something that was single purpose, simple, and beautiful. When we thought about how we used a radio at the time, it was clear that we could strip out a lot of the complexity and make something that was compelling and somewhat fun.”

Zach and Spencer knew that the radio’s design, much like its core concept, should be as simple as possible. But that doesn’t mean that the pair’s design process was necessarily straightforward. “The initial design was going to be in a rectangular wooden and metal enclosure,” says Zach. “One evening while we were testing speaker samples and needed an enclosure to place them in, I reached for some cardboard and what was next to me, a Mason jar. We cut out a hole for the speaker and attached the makeshift lid. It somehow was perfect.”

“We realized that our small 1.5” speaker sounded great in the jar,” he adds, “and the look matched the overall spirit of the project.”

A CAD (computer-aided design) drawing of the Public Radio – Single Station Tuner

With happenstance, however, come hurdles. Although the design itself fell into place without issue, the duo initially found it difficult to program their radios efficiently. “Because the Public Radio ships pre-tuned to a customer’s station,” Zach notes, “each radio gets electronically programmed before getting boxed up. This step has taken of bit of prototyping for us to be efficient with, but has meant that we’ve learned a lot about our shipping process.”

As for the name? “The first proof of concept version of the radio that I made had a switch to choose between two stations,” says Zach. “At the time it was set to Hot 97 and WNYC. A close friend and I were laughing about the contrast of the two stations, but knew that the single station version would be most popular with NPR fans. At that point the name just became a play on words and a simple one that still feels suiting to us and our audience.”

Sleek, fun, and simple, the Public Radio – Single Station Tuner ships pre-tuned to the station you choose (although you can change it if you have to) and is small enough to travel easily throughout the house, perching elegantly on your desk, or on your bookshelf, or even on your kitchen counter, spreading sound as it goes. “I think after owning it,” Zach says, “people comment most on how refreshing it is to have a single-purpose device. There aren’t any apps, passwords, or screens required which is uncommon in the technology and gadgets we own these days.”

Himself a public radio devotee, he adds, “Mine is tuned to WNYC. [But] Spencer keeps his set on Hot 97.”

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11 Comments

  • Reply a September 13, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    this is a joke…right? Only a sucker would buy this shit.

  • Reply a September 13, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    BTW….the “writer” of this “article” looks to be about 15. Typical millennial bullshit “article”.

    • Reply Hadley September 14, 2017 at 10:15 am

      Hey, A — thanks for your concern! Rest assured, I am legally employable in New York. It is nice to know that I still have the skin of a 15-year-old, though.

  • Reply JA September 13, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    I like this. The last FM radio I bought was the size of a matchbook. Its problem was that each time I turned it on, I had to hold down a button to scan through the whole FM band to reach the one station I wanted. That one was only $5 though, so $45 for this alternative is a bit much.

    Not sure why “A” has such a problem with this. Although it might be hard for people in high population density areas to believe, there are still plenty of places in the US that have little to no wifi or cellular coverage. FM (and AM) radio still fills the gap.

  • Reply Big R in Vegas September 13, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    Still waiting for the beer snap top radio version….that plays nothing but beer jingles……

  • Reply Don Meadows September 13, 2017 at 3:38 pm

    Having a taste for one radio station has been an obsession with me for years. Turning my radio on at night & it going off automatically after one hour & turning on automatically after eight hours has become a part of my lifestyle. The radio I brought to Daytona Beach wasn’t picking up WMPR so I bought another radio. It’s much better but doesn’t work all the time. Will I be able to program this radio for this type of work & will it work in the Daytona Beach area?

  • Reply D. Megan King September 13, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    I’m sorry . . . but I’m a huge mason jar fan, and this is hilarious and fun! Hater’s gonna HATE, but why go out of your way to diss something so whimsical and unusual!?!

    Oh . . . and by the way . . . I’m the sucker that is going to buy one of these for every individual on my Christmas list.

    This online retailer is called “Uncommon Goods”. If you are going to take exception to original ideas, don’t waste your time shopping on this website. Much less squander valuable time writing churlish reviews.

  • Reply Z September 13, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    Hey A – haters gotta hate or they shrivel up and blow away.

  • Reply Michael September 13, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    Is it possible to dial into an AM station instead of a FM station –would be a great alternative for me

    • Reply Hadley September 14, 2017 at 10:17 am

      Hi, Michael — the Public Radio only tunes to FM stations for now, but I’ll pass your feedback on to my colleagues!

  • Reply Think September 14, 2017 at 9:16 am

    Ironic for the haters, because I’ll bet they all might as well have a single-station TV: tuned to Fox News!
    Regardless of the frequency you choose, this is a cool, basic statement piece that seems really timely.
    And yes, my bleeding heart liberal snowflake ass will be monitoring NPR.

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