SAN JOSE, CA – Roger Hollerith, a retired Silicon Valley electrical engineer, has started a new venture — hacking Apple iPods into transistor radios for senior citizens who would rather listen to scratchy FM music from a tinny speaker than MP3 through earbuds. “I’m just giving the people what they want,” explains Hollerith. “And the people in my White Hair Extra Care Village want big buttons, thumbwheels, a speaker and a red thing that goes back and forth.”
Hollerith gives his age as “Old enough to remember sock hops. Heck, I’m old enough to remember when you kids wore socks!” After graduating from UC Berkeley with a double major in electrical engineering and transcendental levitation, he went to work for a garage-based startup making adjustable keyboards for dyslexics. The company went public and Hollerith became one of the first Silicon Valley millionaires. He held a variety of R&D jobs for some of the biggest players in the industry until retiring in 2003 to teach transcendental levitation to senior citizens who can’t afford adjustable beds.
The idea for hacking iPods came to Hollerith while watching his neighbor trying to make an antenna out of a coat hanger for the iPod his grandkids gave him. “Poor guy just wanted to listen to a ball game,” he said. Another friend sprained his neck sharing a headset with the woman he was trying to dance to the music with. “That’s when I knew I had a market.”
Hollerith buys cheap used iPods on eBay, then rewires them into paperback book-sized plastic cases with a speaker, a thumbwheel and a big tuner display. “I set them for two stations: oldies and weather. Nobody around here listens to anything else.” The speakers are loud enough to fill a room with music and static, but most of his customers prefer to hold it right up to their ear like they did with transistor radios.
In the six months he’s been in business, Hollerith has built and sold over 5,000 of the hacked iPods, using senior laborers who are tired of playing bingo. He expects sales to top 10,000 per month as more boomers start losing their eyesight, hearing and coordination and get nostalgic for the big old-fashioned analog technology they grew up with. “I’m working on hacking the iPhone into a Princess phone,” Hollerith shared. “I’ve got over a thousand requests for pink models with real dials.” When asked if he’s concerned about lawsuits from Apple, he laughed. “I used to babysit for little Stevie Jobs. I’ve got pictures of him naked on a bearskin rug playing with a toy IBM computer.”