Marathon County Historical Socieity Audio Stations

During my junior year at the EGL Academy we were approached about constructing some audio stations for the Marathon County Historical Society main museum. Being an engineering school with students learning through project based learning, we accepted and immediately put together a team to design, build and install the stations at the museum. I was part of this team, Over A roughly three month planning process (along with regular school, meeting roughly once every two weeks) I was eventually promoted to leader and head of the project. Fulfilling the roles of organisation, installation, electronics construction (we used a custom electronics setup), and the complete design and modification of the antique radio that was to become the fourth audio station. Working with three other students – Trenton, Andrew, (construction) and Thomas (audio editing) – We built the three pedestal based audio stations, completing the wood structure just before the end of the school year. While Thomas took over 15 hours of audio and compressed it into 20 2-5 minute clips for the audio stations. Completing the files and sending them to me just after school got out. at this point we had gone to many meetings, picked up the radio, gutted it (but nothing else on that audio station), built the wood structure for the three four button pedestals (the radio was going to have eight), and ordered nearly all electronics and started building prototypes. this is the point we were at leading up to and in the pictures below.

mas iphone after europe 390

This is the Radio just after gutting, old tube electronics and face-plate removed for modification.

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Prototyping electronics

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recieved a wrong switch, (clear one) and contacting customer service.

Read the service request here.

Next Pictures are of Andrew, Trenton and I constructing the pedestals.

PICT2392Planing rough Lumber for stands (Pine, if I remember correctly)

Trenton using wood filler on nail holes

PICT2420Pedestal “assembly line”.  From left to right – Me, Andrew, Trenton.


Gluing boxes together

After this point we had made and blued all the pieces together, so Trenton and Andrew left for the night…. Never to be seen again….(Actually they decided their part in the project was over, as school ended in about two days)

The next step in the process was to stain the boxes, finish assembly (screw everything together that wasn’t glued), and laser gut the glare proof acrylic for the switches. These are the next pictures.

junior capstone MCHSMeasuring buttons for hole size.

junior capstone MCHSlaying out Plexiglas for switch and phone positions (not final)

junior capstone MCHSPlexiglas cut and attached to pedestal. Button holes not drilled yet.

After this I installed the buttons and wired the electronics up and tested them. They worked flawlessly with the code I had developed over the last month. (Get it here)  Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of this step in the process. But soon after I meet up With Russ & Linda (The Museum Curators) and we installed the first working pedestal.

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Its alive!

(You cant see it here, but the buttons are softly pulsing and turn solid when a button is pressed to play an audio file.)

After the first pedestal, (Of which Russ & Linda were ecstatic to have turned out so well) We installed the rest of the three, 4 button stations.

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Immigrant themed station installed

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Work themed station #1 installed

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Work themed station #2 installed

The next part of the project was to modify the radio into an audio station. this was much different from the others and presented its own unique set of problems because

  1. We wanted to keep the original radio experience by having a speaker system play the files out-loud, but because the museum is so small and has cement floors, the sound echos throughout the whole museum.
  2. This station uses eight buttons instead of four, necessitating a brand new program and hardware on the controller.
  3. (partial fix to # 1) Where do you put the buttons and headphones so everyone, from people in wheelchairs to 7″ tall people, can reach the buttons and have enough cable length to bring the headsets up to their ears?

After much discussion with Russ, the answers to these questions turned out to be:

  1. Install headphones for everyday usage, but install a button to switch between the headphones and speakers for group visits that go to one station at a time.
  2. Rewrite code and add extra inputs and outputs to hardware.
  3. Place the radio as close as possible to the edge and place the handsets on the front of the radio.

Build progress is below.

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Adding numbers to buttons

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Buttons finished

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Buttons installed in faceplate

junior capstone MCHSWiring electronics.

junior capstone MCHSButtons wired and SD card installed.

junior capstone MCHSInstalling face-plate.

junior capstone MCHSFace-plate installed.
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Radio installed at museum

With all the hardware installed the next round was checking the functionality of the stations and the accuracy of the audio files. And there was a problem. About half of the audio files were missing clips or ended one or two words early.  Thomas was on vacation and  unable to fix the files, he also hadn’t saved the edit files after he was finished. leaving me to learn the audio editing program (Audacity) and completely reedit the files correctly for the audio station. This put me over the 90 hour mark for my junior capstone project. You can download all files (audio, programming, instruction manual, pictures) at the end of this article.

After We got the audio files sorted out the only thing I had left to do was to Write the instruction manual for the custom electronics. This was decided to be done so others can use these electronics long in the future, as well as fix them if everything is wrong.  This put me at a grand total of 93 logged hours (Probably much more in reality) of group leadership, working with businesses, and volunteer work.

During this whole project I gained many new skills and experiences. working with a museum system gave me a behind the scenes look at how museums are built an operate. As well as a few great new contacts in Wausau. This project also helped me get more comfortable in a leadership role. Teaching me what people expect out of me, how to predict and meet deadlines, and how to organize meetups, working with everyone’s schedule to make it work for them. I also learned many things in my hands on construction of the audio stations, such as how to optimize code in Arduino and what to look for in making the audio stations easily accessible to everyone.

All in all, I think this project made a difference in me and benefited the community, and I would definitely go through this experience again.



Posted on September 27, 2013, in Community projects, EGL Academy stuff and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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