Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Cooler Radio

So I wanted some sort of portable stereo that was somewhat water resistant to take tubing or camping or tailgating or what have you.  Found a basic Coleman cooler at a garage sale, figured it would do the trick.  You can buy these online, or just make your own...  Here's how I did it.

Actually, this was pretty much conceived out of sheer boredom.

My plan was to use a car stereo and speakers, since they would easily mount in the wall of the cooler using their included hardware.  I figured that since a car stereo would require some sort of 12 volt battery, a "cigarette-lighter" accessory outlet for charging / powering a cell phone or iPod would be pretty useful too.  Also included would be a simple toggle switch to power everything on / off and an analog DC voltmeter salvaged from an old power supply.

These coolers are pretty easy to work with, basically consisting of two pieces of thin plastic separated by expanding foam insulation.  The inner and outer plastic shells can be cut with an ordinary box knife, which is what I used.  A jigsaw would be ideal.

I traced out mounting holes for the car stereo, power switch, accessory outlet, voltmeter, and speakers, then started cutting.  You can see the 1-inch layer of foam insulation between the inside and outside panels -

I'll take six Shlitz's...or whatever's free.

The speakers came with Phillips-head screws, so I simply drove those into the side of the cooler.  The power switch and 12v accessory outlet were surface mount type, which have tabs that snap outward behind the mounting surface -

"I'll charge your iPhone alright...I'll charge it good."

Out of an old HP printer.
Re-purposin' like I give a damn.

The voltmeter had two mounting screws built into the back bezel, but weren't long enough to go through the cooler wall, so I used hot glue to mount.  Easy enough. 

Plutonium chamber = Empty.  Shit.

The car stereo was installed just as it would in a vehicle - the provided metal sleeve's tabs were bent around and behind the face of the cooler front.  The stereo unit then simply slides into the metal sleeve and locks itself into place.

Yep, just like in your '84 Oldsmo-Buick.

Due to space constraints, the battery had to be installed before the stereo could be inserted into the sleeve.  I wanted a battery that would last a while...and figured I might as well use up some of that room inside the I used a lawn tractor battery.  From one of these - 

You say overkill, I say fuck you. 

Now that the battery was in, the wiring connections could be made.  Nothing too complicated, just basically joining all the "positives" together, all the "negatives" together, and connecting the speaker leads to the appropriate wires on the radio wiring harness.   Here's a schematic - 

Can I MS Paint, or what?

Starting with the positive connections, I fastened the orange wire from the switch to the positive terminal on the battery with a crimp-style ring terminal.  Then I  soldered the other wire from the switch to the red wire from the outlet, the red and yellow wires from the stereo, and the positive wire from the voltmeter.  A wire from the ring terminal on the negative side of the battery was then soldered to the black wire from the stereo, the black wire from the outlet, and the negative wire from the voltmeter.  Heat shrink tubing was used over the connections...

Heat shrink tubing pre-pool party

Heat shrink tubing post-pool party

Some of the stereo's wiring wasn't used - the "front" speaker wires, the amplifier / power antenna signal, and the illumination wire, so I just bundled these up with a wire tie and tucked them out of the way - 

Big ass lawn tractor battery always tryin' to photo bomb

Here's a view of everything inside the cooler installed and connected, just prior to the stereo being inserted.  You can see the black wiring connector that will plug into the back of the stereo...

Still plenty of room for your diabetic testing supplies! 

Speaking of the stereo, I picked up a top-o-the line Wal-Mart special...complete with USB reader, SD Card support, and an AUX-IN jack for iPod connection -  
Wal-Mart stereos are the Jenny McCarthys of the car audio industry.

Used a few wire ties to clean up some of the wiring - 

Al Green would be proud

Finally, after sliding the stereo unit into its sleeve and plugging in the connector, it was done.  A pic of the radio in operation while charging my cell -  

I actually haven't been tubing or camping in years,
so this will make a nice addition to the back of the garage.


  1. Where does the beer go now?

    But really, that's pretty awesome :)

  2. Really, where do you put the drinks? Seems like a lot of wasted of space... any ideas?

  3. Could you at a FM antenna to the radio