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Radio, Navigation, Entertainment

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What are the radio parts and where are they located? 

It’s hard to believe cars didn’t always have radios, but it wasn’t until 1930 that the first car radio was installed in a Studebaker.  After that, FM radio followed in the 1950s, cassette tapes in the ‘70s, CDs in the ‘80s, and all manner of technologies today.  Music and talk radio can make long rides seem shorter, and radio broadcasts can warn of inclement weather and other road hazards.  The radio has come a long way from a novelty to a necessity. 

The radio might be such a common part of your experience that you’ve never really thought about how it works.  All radio transmissions work through the magic of electromagnetism.  A transmitter sends out electromagnetic waves.  These waves change, or modulate, over time either in amplitude (amplitude module is AM radio) or frequency (as in FM radio).  A changing magnetic field can induce a voltage in nearby conductive materials, like, say, a metal antenna.  The car antenna picks up lots of different waves though.  The tuner is set to resonate with waves of a certain frequency, which amplifies them, making those waves come through more clearly.  The voltage created by that frequency is carried down the wire to the radio, and sent to the speakers which vibrate in response to the voltage.  The vibration of the speakers makes the sweet, sweet music that you hear. 

Those are the basics of how the radio works, but there are lots of other parts involved.  Many of these are involved in helping you control the radio.  Knobs let you set the tuner and the volume.  An electronic display can tell you what station you’re tuned to.  That display relies on computer circuitry and a circuit acting as the radio’s power source. 

How do I know if my ­­­­radio parts need to be replaced?              

Different radio parts face different problems.  Although antennas can rust and become less effective, more often they are simply snapped off.  Antennas can be snapped by heavy ice and snow, overzealous automated car washes, and wanton vandals.  No antenna means no radio for you.  Some antennas are telescoping and rise up when the radio is on and squeeze in when the radio is off.  That can help prevent it from being snapped off, but it can introduce other problems.  The antenna can become stuck in one position or partway between positions if the motor that moves stops running, or if corrosion keeps the telescoping pieces from sliding smoothly past each other. 

The radio controls, like knobs, can wear out from use.  They might become loose, get stuck, or come right off.  You might be stuck listening to one station until you replace your knob.  Hopefully, it’s one you really like.  

Speaker grilles can become loose or cracked.  You’ll hear them start to shake and rattle as you roll the volume knob up.   

Problems with the internal circuitry of the radio can be more trouble.  Resistors in the circuitry can burn out from the high heat generated by the electricity flowing through the radiator.  Radio circuitry problems, for example, or issues with the power supply might make the display dim or completely nonfunctional, or keep the radio from turning on at all.  Then you can experience driving the way it sounded in the not-so-roaring ‘20s. 

Can I replace the radio parts myself?  

The difficulty of replacing any radio part will vary depending on what type of part it is.  Radio knobs will be the easiest to replace.  You’ll just have to pop off the old one, and pop on the new one. 

Speaker grilles are also fairly easy to replace.  You can unscrew the old grille, pull it off, put the new one into place and screw it on. 

Replacing an antenna can become slightly more complicated.  If you only have to replace the antenna mast, you can unscrew it from the body of the vehicle and screw the new one in.  In some cases, you might have to replace the mast and the wire that runs from the antenna to the radio.  You will have to remove a number of body trim panels to thread the radio wire throughout the car. 

Working on the radio’s internal circuitry requires some technical expertise and is probably best left to the professionals.  

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