Radio Repair

Many homes house a variety of types and ages of radios. This Fix-It Guide on radio repair tells how a radio works, what often goes wrong, how to identify a radio problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix it.  This guide will cover how to fix small corded radios: clock radio, table radio, digital radio, kitchen radio, and others. It gives step-by-step instructions for how to reset a radio dial pointer, how to replace a radio external antenna, how to replace a radio internal antenna, and how to clean radio electronic components. You will also be referred to other Fix-It Guides for specific repairs. See the Car Radio Fix-It Guide and the CB Radio Fix-It Guide for information on how to fix those types.

How Does a Radio Work?

A radio receiver is an electronic device that receives audio signals through an antenna, then amplifies the resulting sound and delivers it to your ears through speakers. The signals are either amplitude modulated (AM) or frequency modulated (FM). Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that, but the rest isn’t important to the user.

The radio component of a portable stereo, clock radio, and table radio is basically the same in each type of device. As a result, these units share many of the same problems and repairs. The main difference in radios is whether the tuner is analog or digital. Most tuners now are digital, but many older radios still in use have analog tuners. Digital radios have few easily serviceable parts. Digital radios are quite reliable, but if a part does fail, take the radio to an authorized repair center–or recycle it.

What Can Go Wrong with a Radio?

Household radios are corded radio receivers and amplifiers. That means power cords may need replacing. Contacts can be bent or corroded. A dial cord can be broken or the gears jammed. The station indicator pointer may be misaligned. Controls and switches may be dirty. Antennas break.

Fix-It Tip

Having problems getting up in the morning because your alarm radio doesn’t work? Some units have a backup battery that saves your alarm settings if the power goes out. If the battery is dead, it doesn’t remember them and you don’t get up in time. Test and replace the battery or button battery, typically mounted in a small compartment accessed through a cover on the bottom or back of the radio.

How Can I Identify a Radio Problem?

  • If the radio won’t work, make sure the power is on at the outlet and test the electrical cord and replace if needed.
  • If the station indicator won’t move, check the pointer (see below). Less expensive radios use a station frequency pointer mounted on a dial cord that’s moved by a small wheel on the side of the radio. Better radios use a digital frequency readout that cannot be adjusted.
  • If the sound if fuzzy, disassemble the unit and locate the volume control (see the Appliance Controls Fix-It Guide); spray electrical contact cleaner into the control and rotate or slide the control several times to lubricate the mechanism. Replace a damaged or broken antenna (see below).

Fix-It Tip

Don’t throw away the owner’s manual that came with your radio. It not only tells you how to maintain it, it also tells you where to get parts. In addition, it probably includes warranty information to determine whether you need to fix it yourself or return it.

What Do I Need for Radio Repair?

Most modern radios are built on printed circuit boards that can’t be repaired by anyone but trained technicians. However, there still are tests you can perform and parts you can replace. Check your local Radio Shack or other electronics supplier for parts and tools. Here are a few tools you may need:

  • Screwdrivers
  • Wrenches
  • Electronic contact cleaner
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Soldering iron and solder

What Are the Steps to Radio Repair?

Reset a radio dial pointer:

  1. Turn on the radio and find a strong radio signal somewhere near the middle of the dial. Listen for the frequency (such as 740 AM or 96.5 FM).
  2. Use a piece of tape or grease pencil to mark the dial for where the pointer should be for that frequency.
  3. Unplug the receiver and open the housing. Typically, there are two to four screws accessed from the underside of the radio.
  4. Inspect the pointer mechanism for obvious problems, such as a cord that came off the end rollers or a break in the cord. If the cord is broken, replace or repair it.
  5. Loosen the spring clips, then move the pointer along the dial cord until the station being received lines up with the tape or mark on the dial.
  6. Tighten the clips on the cord, making sure you don’t move the pointer.
  7. Plug the radio in and verify that the dial pointer reads correctly.

Replace a radio external antenna:

  1. Loosen the radio antenna screw on the radio’s exterior and remove the antenna. (See the photo in the Portable Stereo Fix-It Guide.) Replace it with an exact replacement unit available through the manufacturer or an electronics store.
  2. If there is no exterior screw, you will need to open the radio to access the antenna base (see below).

Replace a radio internal antenna:

  1. Unplug the receiver and open the housing. Typically, there are two to four screws accessed from the underside of the radio.
  2. Find and remove the internal antenna (or the internal base of the external antenna). Internal antennas typically are numerous wires wound around a flat piece, then sealed to minimize moisture and damage.
  3. Inspect the wires wound around the antenna for obvious damage. Also make sure the antenna is firmly plugged into the main circuit board. If the antenna is damaged, replace it. If no replacement is available, attempt to repair the antenna, which is not easy because of all the fine wiring, or replace the radio as a unit.

Clean radio electronic components:

  1. Unplug the receiver and open the housing (see above).
  2. Use canned air to blow dust from components including any power cords and speaker jacks.
  3. Use electrical contact cleaner or a cotton swab dipped in denatured alcohol to clean electronic components as needed.
  4. If you find broken components on a circuit board, replace the circuit board. As a last resort before purchasing a new circuit board, you can use a soldering iron and electronic solder to attempt a repair.

Fix-It Tip

Soldering electronic components can be tricky. If you want to try it, buy a medium-quality (not cheap, not professional) soldering iron or gun from an electronics store and ask the clerk how to use it. Make sure instructions come with the tool, but it’s useful to hear someone explain it.