Build Your Own River Radio!

June 17, 2010



We all know Texas heat is brutal and most of us spend all summer trying to escape but there is a compromise.  Stick your butt in an inner tube and take that combo to the freezing cold waters of the west Texas rivers.  One of my family and friends most relished traditions is a yearly visit to the Guadalupe River which usually occurs during the Memorial holiday weekend, obviously a popular time of year for this ritual, as the convergence of the rest of the state’s population is near overwhelming at times.

The cooling waters of the Guadalupe, Comal, Frio and other Texas water ways have much to offer in relief and rescue from the Texas summer heat but, in my opinion, lack one key element to the optimal tubing experience.  Music, as one of my colleagues pointed out in an earlier post in this series, is essential.  Problem is water and electronics don’t mix so well and the water resistant equipment that is available falls short if you’re trying to share your tasty tunes with anyone within beer launching range.  That’s where the not so high tech redneck radio cooler comes to the rescue.  Here’s a brief description of how to build your own river radio.  This can easily be assembled by the intermediately skilled craftsman that’s familiar with simple electronics and basic material fabrications.

Here’s a check list of what you’ll need.

1. Roller cooler 40qt (wheels are a must cause this thing is kinda heavy)

2. Car battery (size depends on how much you weight you want to lug around and how much play time you want from your entertainment system)

3. Pair of car stereo speakers, 6×9 or smaller w/polypropylene cones (key to water resistance)

4. Car amplifier (don’t go to crazy on the amps, it doesn’t improve the sound all that much and it drains the play hours from battery)

5. Stereo patch cable

6. Some type of MP3 player, iPod, iPhone

7. Silicone adhesive

8. Electrical toggle switch

9. PVC pipe 2 inch or larger and adhesives for snorkel (optional)

Tools? In a pinch I could make this work with a utility blade and a pair of pliers but for a clean job you’ll want a few more selections on your work bench.  Nothing more than your standard drill, pliers and screwdrivers will accomplish the task at hand but a Dremel tool with a cutting bit can really speed up the process and make for a cleaner build. So here’s what you do:

  1. Open that pair of polypropylene speakers and find the template for the speaker hole cut-outs to  mark your ice chest for surgery.  Don’t start cutting just yet, you’ll want to layout the entire job before starting your fabrications.
  2. Next, position the battery in the ice chest and determine whether or not you’ll have enough clearance between the speaker magnets and the battery.  I’ve never known this to be an issue but if you went all out on some big speakers you may have a problem.

3. So now that you know the ice chest has the capacity to house your speakers and battery you may consider the option of adding the snorkel.  If so, you’ll want to position the snorkel pipe thru the top of the ice chest so it does not interfere with the speaker or battery placement and mark the cut out accordingly. The snorkel servers two purposes; it improves the quality of the sound by allowing the speakers to breath from the in-out movement of the speaker cones and it also cools the electronics just a bit.  I’ve gone years without the snorkel without problems but if you’re looking for the best quality in sound you’ll want to include it.

4. Let’s don’t forget that amplifier, make sure that fits as well.  Depending how creative you are you can mount the amplifier to the side of the inside wall of the ice chest or just place it in that little snack tray that comes included with most ice chest which you usually toss out.

5. Now that your well laid plans for stereophonic paradise are in order, mark your speaker cut-outs (higher is better) and commence to cutting.  This is where you’ll utilize the Dremel tool to trace along the template markings.  Note that the ice chest walls are thick so don’t expect to cut all the way through to the inner lining.  You’ll just want to cut through the first layer of plastic and complete your oval or circular cut out. Once that’s done you’ll peel off the plastic layer revealing a foam insulator beneath.  You can then cut out the foam using a utility blade or the Dremel tool.  Repeat these steps for the second speaker.

6. Now you have the speaker holes cut out you can mount the speakers.  Depending on what type of speakers you have you can either mount them directly to the surface of the outer skin or drill holes all the way thru the inner lining and bolt them on from the backside (preferred). After the speakers are mounted seal the edges with the silicon.

7. If you choose the snorkel option I would do this next.  This takes some imagination in fabrication but what you’re shooting for is the tightest fit possible so make your cut outs as precise as possible and insert the PVC thru the top of the ice chest.  To hold it in place position female ends on either side of the lid giving minimum space to the male fitting in the middle creating a sandwich of the lid between the two.  Use silicon to seal the edges then fasten the other PVC fittings in a manner that creates a U on top of the cooler

8. Now you can place the battery inside the cooler and, again, depending on how fancy you want to get you can secure the battery in some fashion or just let it sit on the bottom of the cooler.

9. Next, wire and mount the amplifier. Not necessarily in that order but don’t mount the amplifier where you can’t see or reach the connections for the speakers and power.

10. Now you have all the components in place complete the wiring per the manufacture’s instructions using the toggle switch as the “remote on”.

11. Now plug in your MP3 player using the RCA cables to the amps input source and that’s it! You’re all ready to rock-and-float!

More project photos here

Comments on Build Your Own River Radio!

  1. 1

    From coachparker:

    awesome! You've inspired me to do this

  2. 2

    From JMO:

    So cool. I had no idea something like this would be waterproof without a big hassle.

  3. 3

    From Jennifer:

    Rodney, I'm going to the river next weekend. I might want to borrow this!!!

  4. 4

    From cpembyrun:

    Instructions on how to build a river radio…probably one of the most valuable things you have taught me …and that is why you are awesome.

  5. 5

    From wesley:

    how do you keep the battery from sliding around and how many hours of playing time do you get

  6. 6

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    what's the snorkel for?

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    From brent:

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    From Eddie Morales:

    The snorkel is for venting out the heat. I just built one ( ice chest radio) and it gets very hot inside the chest. It doesn't float but b/c of the battery, it is bottom heavy so it won't tip over but it will sink.

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