Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Kelvin Doe Does Radio


Sierra Leone hasn't been in the US news much lately in the last year except for the brutal tales of their Ebola outbreak and occasionally some sports coverage of their embattled soccer (football) team. But back in 2009 there was a 13-year old kid really that built his own radio station. Human interest stories rarely go national, but this one did. More here.

Kelvin Doe was born in 1996. If you want to feel old remember that was the same year that Jerry McGuire came out. didn't see it?  Well so did Fargo. We're also feeling old because at 13-years old this kid was wiring together a pirate radio station while you were watching Beavis and Butthead. It's rather impressive. You can see above his rig. From the alligator clips you can tell it's quite mobile. there's no visible antenna but that's probably a length of wire. That round object is clearly a portable CD player. I can see two different mixers, one mounted to a square of cardboard the other an off-the-shelf Midiman Multimixer 6. that let's him pan left and right in addition to straight line mixing. You can get one on Ebay for about $25.  But that "Lion Generator" is something special.

The infrastructure of west Africa in general is pretty terrible. In Freetown, Sierra Leone, week-long power outages are common. Doe conquered this problem by gathering up some acid, soda, metal, and duct tape and made his own battery. Some relatively non-technical reporting on this led to some confusion on what he actually built, one even comically suggesting the generator was made from two DVD players: [SOURCE]  it's actually made from an old voltage stabilizer. He probably had to fix it, then use that to level out the erratic output of his homebrew batteries in series. His transmitter looks like a modified FM translator. More here.  More here and here.


He was discovered by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) doctoral student, David Sengeh, who was in Sierra Leone to run a national high school innovation competition: Innovate Salone. Kelvin was then invited visit MIT's Practitioner’s Programme back in America. Prior to that his furthest trip from home was about 10 miles. He has since appeared on stage at MakerFaire as a guest at “Young Makers” in New York and as a guest presenter at Harvard School of Engineering and more recently on TedX.