if you connect an elderly radio to the mains supply and switch on
expecting it to burst into life after perhaps years unused in an attic
or shed, THINK AGAIN. Burst it might, but into flames is quite possible.
Even if it DOES seem to be working, it is unlikely to last and could
fail disastrously when least expected. It is a high risk to take,
fraught with danger for yourself and anyone using the set. The reason?
Apart from time-compromised wiring and components generally,
electrolytic capacitors used for power smoothing in mains receivers are
prone to leakage and must be gently 'reformed' before any set can be
considered remotely safe to power up. If you MUST connect the set, use a
test lamp. This easily made device is described on the
'PROJECTS' button in the navigation panel at the foot of the HOME page.
Q. What advice would you think
is essential to the beginning vintage radio restorer?
Always remember that valve radios, unlike the modern transistor or microchip
equivalent, use high
voltages which can be lethal in certain circumstances. Electrical
safety standards were not as rigorous in the valve era as they are today and
ageing of components together with ill-advised tinkering in the past may have
further compromised the safety of a set. Remember too that others may use
the set, once you have completed your work.
Which sets should a beginner look for?
A. Perhaps it's
best to consider what NOT to buy. I'd avoid makes such as 'Westminster',
'Barker', 'Defiant' and others produced for department stores. Nothing
in general is wrong with these receivers but obtaining service data can
be problematic. For a beginning restorer, I suggest sticking to a
well-known brand such as Ekco or Cossor. It might be as well to pick AC
only sets, so avoid AC/DC and AC with only a tiny mains transformer as
this will be a heater transformer and the high voltages will be directly
from the mains, with the possibility of a live chassis. Stay with sets
of four or five valves and don't go for AM/FM receivers. Whatever you
buy, try to get hold of a service sheet. As you progress with knowledge
and experience you can widen your selection range.
Q. Are vintage radios valuable? I have one that my
grandfather owned. Is it worth anything?
A. Vintage radios are rather like vintage cars - some are
worth a great deal of money. For example, certain Bakelite-cased Ekco sets
built before the second world war can fetch many hundreds (i.e. M23) or even
into the thousands of
pounds (i.e. the 'circular' series such as the AD65). Post war, the circular Ekcos are sought after but most other models of
the marque attract relatively modest prices at auction. However, the market is
a fickle one and I do not recommend purchasing a set with a view to making money
- its value may actually decrease, as many have in recent times. Take the example
of Bush's Bakelite-cased DAC90, DAC10 and
DAC90A. All are still are sought after, but are now selling for considerably
less than they were only three or four years previously.
There are, too, other popular Bakelites such as the
small 'Toaster' models by KB and the 'Coronation Twin' by Ultra. Sets built in
the sunset years of the valve radio - the early sixties - can often be obtained
for very little outlay. The older a set is, the better, all other things being equal. As an example
some Pre-war wooden cabinet sets, typically most Pye
'Sunrise' models and the Philips 'Superinductance' range, can pick up quite high offers at auction.
Sets built in the very early days, pre-1930,
are generally worth purchase, especially if they are in a good general condition
or renovation is possible.
rarity is also a selling point, so the sets from the smaller volume makers are
becoming collectable. Companies such as Cameo, Dulci, Etronic, Portadyne and
Champion come to mind in this respect. In the end, though, a radio is worth only
the amount someone is willing to pay for it - and that varies wildly at auction.
Its quite simply a matter of luck, though less so if you place the set in
a collector's auction which is both respected and well advertised. It is worth
looking out for Miller's antiques Price Guide to get some idea of the worth of
vintage sets - but do NOT rely totally upon any guide.
I also feel that it is important to understand that renovation is
a costly business and should not be considered as a means of improving the value
of a given radio. Of course the value should increase, but it is likely that the
outlay for restoration will equal or exceed the value gained. Restoration is a
therefore best seen as a labour of love and reserved for the radio that has
personal nostalgic appeal and will be treasured by you, the present owner. The
cost of having a professional renovation will almost always outweigh the final
value of a given set.
looking for someone to restore or repair my valve radio/amplifier.
A. Please read the above answer, then
take a look at the 'LINKS' page. There are several people offering a restoration service tailored to
your individual needs. It costs nothing to enquire. Before you pass a set to a
restorer, ask to see his photographic record, or if he has any satisfied
customers you could contact for a reference. BE
WARNED: THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE WHO CONSIDER THEMSELVES CAPABLE OF SUCH
RESTORATION WORK, BUT ONLY A RELATIVE FEW WHO TRULY ARE.
This is not to imply that there are hordes of 'cowboys' out there - but the fact
is, only experience gained over long years of service can truly impart the
knowledge and understanding needed to perform successful and sympathetic
restorations to ageing valve receivers. This type of work isn't to be confused
with modern electronic servicing. It is far more demanding and the skills needed
IMPORTANT: THE PRESENCE
OF A LINK DOES NOT INDICATE VRW'S RECOMMENDATION. IT IS A CASE, AS SO
OFTEN IN LIFE, OF 'CAVEAT EMPTOR'
Q. Where can I find service data for my valve
A. Several sources are available on the
internet. Our publishing section, available on this site (click on CIRCUITS),
has a vast store of service sheets and manuals. Also, take a look on the 'LINKS' page for other suppliers.
Q. Where can I find books/eBooks/CD-ROMs
about vintage radio?
A. I have written several over the years
and these are available on this website for purchase via AMAZON. They are also
available from good bookstores worldwide.
kind of vintage radio is worth the least?
A. Probably, late 1950s/early
60s radiograms. Their comparative 'newness', their bulk and the difficulty of
obtaining stylii (needles) for the cartridges, especially the monophonic types (which will
damage stereo LPs unless they are of the compliant, so - called 'stereo
compatible' variety) make them less attractive for the collector, especially
where he/she has a modern home with limited space. The often fitted spindly
legs, ungainly 1960s design, cost-saving finish and cheap plastic trim of many
of the products in this category reduce the value still further.
Q. Surely, the
supply of valve radios is diminishing - they must be getting scarce?
A. There is still a plentiful supply of valve radios
available that were built between 1950 - 1969 and they often come at easily
affordable prices, so it is in this group where most enthusiasts learn their
restoration skills. Again, Bakelite-cased sets in good condition are more popular than wooden-cased
sets, with a
consequence for the purchase cost.
Q. My old radio has
some sockets at the back labelled 'P.U.' What are these for?
The letters 'P.U.' are short for 'Pick-Up', which was another term for a
transducer, usually magnetic, with a pivoted arm that allowed it to track
records with a replaceable needle, converting the physical oscillations of the
78 rpm record groove into electrical impulses. In other words, a record player.
The sockets allowed gramophone records to be reproduced electrically. It was
possible to buy magnetic heads to fit in place of the original acoustic
diaphragm used on wind-up gramophones, also complete arms. Some enterprising
makers produced 'add-on' units said to convert radio sets into radio-gramophones
- at a fraction of the cost of same. These consisted of an electric-powered
turntable and pick-up, housed in a cabinet of some form. The needles were the
standard type - steel - but I understand that it became possible to fit
sapphire-tipped ones which would of course have lasted much longer. An
alternative name for such sockets is 'gram'.
magnetic pick-ups should not be confused with the much later hi-fi magnetic
cartridges. The output from the old types was high but they possessed a poor
frequency response and were very heavy. As Late as the 1950s, in the early days of the long-playing record,
Philips marketed the Disc Jockey Junior. Again, this was simply a turntable and
lightweight arm fitted with a microgroove/78 cartridge using twin sapphire stylii on a 'rock-over crystal head - no inbuilt amplifier, for the same basic purpose.
you really as knowledgeable as you sound?
A. No. of course
I'm not! I am still
learning - I think it is an on-going process and there's always something new to
discover. Show me the man who believes he knows everything and I'll show you a
Q. How easy is it to restore a radio?
A. How long is a piece of string? So much depends upon the
make, the general condition (which in turn is affected by the manner in which it
has been stored), why it went out of use in the first place and so on.
Q. What do you think is the best way to
learn about vintage radio?
A. Frankly, there is no best way, at least not
nowadays. In the past I would have recommended night school or adult study at a
technical college, or failing that, a course of home study from one of the recognized
institutes. Perhaps the best suggestion is that you read - everything you can
find. Web sites (look at the list on the links page) and vintage magazines are
ideal in this respect, but don't assume you'll pick the subject up quickly this
way - also and essentially, read books. For
some recommended ones, click on the 'Biblio'
button and select 'out of print'. Take a good look, too, at the page devoted to F.J. Camm. You could learn a lot by using my
VRW publications, however: click
on 'BOOKS' for details.
doing: but the most
important thing BY FAR is to read and act upon the safety suggestions on
this and other websites. It isn't just your personal safety that can
be at risk, important though that is. Others, family, friends or
subsequent purchasers, may use the set you have worked upon and
inadequate or wrong servicing may put them all at risk.
Q. How did you learn to restore, and how long did it take
A. I learned the hard way. I started when I was twelve years old. I
bought magazines such as 'Radio Constructor' and 'Practical Wireless',
understanding about one word in five, at first. Libraries provided me with
useful books on the subject, some of which I recommend still (see my 'Things to
Read' page). I taught myself - first to build (amplifiers, radios, test
equipment) then to repair and restore. I later gained employment as a radio and
TV engineer, attended college and obtained trade qualifications before going on
to higher education. With practice and diligence, much can be achieved
- but there's no gain without pain, I believe.
Q. What is so special about valves? Surely, modern
microchip and digital technology is better than the old stuff.
A. I too greatly enjoy todays
electronics and am impressed by satellite TV, the internet, CD, DVD and digital audio, but I have also respect for vacuum-tube technology and
for the brilliant people who engineered it to such a standard. Whether modern
equipment is better is an arguable point. You need to qualify 'better' because,
if you mean in size, is smaller necessarily better? More convenient in everyday
use, certainly. No annoying wait of thirty to fifty seconds until the valves
warm up! In terms of build quality, valve equipment wins hands down as modern flimsy
construction simply cannot compete. The inescapable fact is, though, that today's amazing technology offers
functions effectively unattainable with valves - the modern computer, for example
and despite the detractors, flat-screen high-definition is here to stay.
is to miss the point. I am not
suggesting that we should go backwards with technology - perish the thought - but we should, I feel, develop an understanding of the often quite
amazing design and building skill that went into the valve era. In other
words, it is time the valve was appreciated for its great
contribution to the technology of the last century. I am pleased to find
that many Hi-Fi enthusiasts are finding out what I and many others already knew:
That the valve can, in some limited situations, out-perform the transistor and microchip.
I recently saw an advert in a computer magazine for a soundcard that boasted the
use of a valve amplifier! Remember too that the earliest radio apparatus is already old enough to merit
accolade 'antique' - a sure way to raise the value of anything. (Incredibly,
set up his first UK experimental transmitter on the cliffs above the Needles on
the Isle of Wight, 1897. Like me, you can visit the spot and read the commemorative
History demonstrates that, after a fallow period where recently outmoded technology,
whatever its form, slips into
obsolescence, a re-appraisal and a re-birth takes place and interest and
affection for the technology takes over. Steam railways are an example of such a
renaissance in this country and world-wide. During
this 21st century, despite the inevitable ebb and flow of public interest, valve radio will surely become even more highly regarded and sought-after. In
fact, this process has already begun.
Finally: I'm biased, being a sucker for old stuff, be it
radios, cars, boats, steam engines, aircraft, locomotives, films, music, whisky,
Q. I dropped my Bakelite cabinet radio and now there's a
chunk missing. Can it be repaired, and if so, where can I find out how to repair
A. Yes, often more or less
invisibly at a normal viewing distance, with
the right materials and due care and a modicum of skill. My Book, 'VINTAGE
RADIOS' covers the topic but more specific information is available in my
eBook 'Restoring Valve Radios', which also contains a group of projects which include fitting a new
wave-change switch to a DAC90A, replacing damaged dials and casting replacement
knobs, among other items. The eBook is available at a discounted
price as a download in .pdf form, for reading on the
computer and printing at will. See the
'BOOKS, eBOOKS' button. Also take a look at the 'VIDEOS' page on this
site, for pictorial guidance on cabinet repairs.
Q. Can you supply
me with data on my set?
usually. Data is available for a vast
range of UK radios from 1930 onward. Check the 'CIRCUIT DATA' button but
if you can't find your model, e-mail anyway - it is likely I can help. Charges
are very reasonable and really only cover the expense and time for researching,
copying and if required, UK posting.
Q. Can you supply
data on my video recorder or DVD player?
A. Sorry, the
answer is almost certainly no, although a small stock of service manuals
are to hand.
you supply colour television data?
A. Yes, possibly
- a limited amount is available, mostly 1970s-1980s.
Q. Can you supply monochrome
(black and white) TV data?
A. Yes - in stock is data
from 1945 onward. Vast quantities to hand,
far too much to attempt a complete listing. Please email your enquiry.
In fact it is always
best to email your radio or TV data enquiry - it costs nothing and
there's absolutely NO OBLIGATION.
Q. I have an AC/DC set with a broken knob. Is it safe to
A. Absolutely not. If the control spindle is exposed,
you must not
connect the set to the power supply. A replacement knob of the correct type is
needed - which probably means a type that grips the spindle with a shaped
metal spring clip, without a grub screw unless the screw is only accessible from
UNDERNEATH the cabinet or BEHIND the front panel (in the manner of the Bush DAC90A, for example). AC/DC chassis are usually
connected directly to one side of the mains and there exists the possibility
that the chassis is live at full mains potential. Before any other
consideration, though, please see comment at the head of this page.
just bought a mains set at auction, but the mains lead has been cut off. Why?
A. This is to prevent you
bringing a legal action to bear on the auction house in the event of the radio
inflicting some form of injury due to catastrophic failure when plugged in. The attitude of most auction houses and
semi-professional sellers, including the sellers on Ebay and other on-line
auctions, is: Cut the lead off
and stick a label on 'requires attention', and they nearly always do.
One can hardly blame them in these days of 'Big Brother' safety police and the
profitable line created by the compensation lawyers. Remember that some sets use resistive mains leads - line cords. Fitting standard
(i.e. non-resistive) cable to such a set will do much damage and is potentially
very dangerous. Moral? Get hold of service data, and read it, before you start
work, not after. Whatever you do, the advice must be: Do NOT simply connect a
lead to a set and switch it on, where the lead has been removed prior to
I know my set is a standard type, no line cord. Can
I just replace the missing mains lead, then?
A. I repeat:
NEVER connect any elderly radio to the mains without carrying out basic safety
checks first (see the foot of this page)
Q. I've seen the
term 'Art Deco' used in relation to radios. What does it mean?
A. Nothing is ever quite
as clear-cut as the writers of design books would have you believe. This, for
what it is worth, is my take on the subject:
The terms 'Art Deco' and 'Deco' are later than
the erathey are named after, being coined (in the 1960s, actually) to cover
certain styling influences during the 1920s and 1930s. People in those days
never referred to 'Art Deco', instead calling it the modern style (Moderne). Art Deco is a loose
mixture of what has come to be called Egyptiana, inspired by the discoveries
made of artefacts within Egyptian tombs, presumably,
and geometric shapes. Deco architecture in the UK is characterised by long, low looks -
simplified, slab-sided design, wide rather than high windows, usually metal-framed and with horizontal glazing bars, flat roofs
(originally, but now often replaced with a pent roof in deference to the British
walls sometimes with curves at the corners
and a general 'ship's bridge' like appearance. Think of Odeon cinemas, both
exterior and interior. The same kind of influences
extended to furniture and, of course, to radio cabinet design where it
occasionally became rather confused with Art Nouveau.
A slightly later 1930s
influence was 'streaming' or 'streamlining' and radio cabinets moulded or built
with this influence are simplified, with little added decoration, though they
may have ribs across the loudspeaker aperture, perhaps in a chromium
finish, and also rounded corners. Sort of futuristic in a 'Dan Dare' manner! Styling taken from American cars and trains...Some manufacturers were in the habit of
mixing the stylistic influences of Nouveau, Deco and Streaming, a process that
perhaps occasionally and by happy accident created an attractive and memorable
Others, notably Murphy, went their own way for much of the time, bravely tending to
ignore current styling trends and at the same time creating Deco-informed trends of their own with famous
designers such as the brothers Gordon and Dick Russell. The results were
curiously variable though the successful
ones more than made up for the misfires. Murphy have their adherents and rightly
so, but I have
to admit that I do not much enjoy restoring their products from the later years
when the conglomerate of Rank Bush Murphy held the brand name and profit
margins, not quality, seems to have been the overriding concern.
Q. If Deco means
long and low, why were so many radio cabinets of the upright - cathedral,
tombstone - form?
A. Mainly, I guess, to save table-top space. The large loudspeakers of the time
could be placed above the chassis, rather than to one side. Some sets, often post-war
model battery sets, also
gained from this space-saving shape which allowed the batteries to be stored in
compartments or upon shelves within the cabinet.
Q. Why do some sets
demand a high price, where others sell cheaply?
A. Designers used to talk about 'form following function',
which was a way of saying that tables should look like tables, radio sets like
radio sets and so on. It is an obviously circular argument which begs the
question 'What then should a radio that looks like a radio look like?' and is often
discredited nowadays, but there is some point to it - consider the 1930s Ekco radio designs of Wells Coates. Presumably he started with the
shape of the loudspeaker and wrapped the entire design around that device, the outcome
being the 'round' Ekcos, simple uncluttered elegance, none better than his very first
models and, some would argue, never bettered in visual terms by any radios before or
Interestingly, the Wells Coates designs do not slavishly
follow the fashion for Art Deco styling and motifs- I believe they are more influenced by
streamlining and modernism. Coates was, of course, an avant-garde architect and that
background perhaps allowed him to resist the pressure for the occasionally
inelegant excesses of Deco.
The British public is, on the whole, conservative with their preferences and
look askance at anything 'new' as Coates found out with his
first circular design. Revered today for its elegant black and chromium, it sold only poorly until Ekco diluted the purity of Coates' original concept by changing the black Bakelite into
mottled brown so-called 'Walnut' effect. Nothing wrong with Walnut mottle, but
the high gloss black of the original sets must have looked truly stunning when
new. Notwithstanding, good visual design is surely one of the
main keys to lasting popularity; vintage sets
that are popular with collectors often are so because of their appearance rather than their
functional qualities. Quite understandable, just bear in mind that some of the most
sought-after sets may perform only adequately with chassis that are not
always renowned for
build quality or reliability.
Q. Where can I buy batteries for my valve radio?
HT batteries are no longer manufactured, production having
stopped (probably) in the late 1970s. You could build one yourself from PP3 batteries.
There are battery case images for printing at home on the 'PROJECTS' button,
above. If you need
an accumulator, you could use a 2V Cyclon cell - see RS web site
or the RS catalogues.
Q. Where can I buy cabinet restoration materials?
A. Try Axminster Power Tool Centre on
Also take a look at 'Links and Sources' on this web site.
Q. Where can I buy valves and spare electronic
A. Take a look at
the 'Links and Sources' pages.
Q. How can I modify my medium
and long wave (AM only) set to receive VHF/FM?
A. I suggest you obtain a transistorised (or
microchipped) external FM tuner unit or a kit for same. Ideally self powered or battery
operated, rather than needing supplies from the ‘parent’ radio. It should be
possible to connect directly to the gram/pick-up sockets of your radio sets.
Check the Maplin catalogue and any of the advertisers in the electronics magazines
for a source. Do remember that AC/DC sets usually have a live chassis and
therefore any DC isolating capacitors associated with the pick-up sockets must
be above suspicion and that the mains must be connected in the correct polarity,
i.e. neutral to the chassis. A self-powered valved VHF tuner should also be
Q. I'd prefer to modify the
set itself, rather than fit an external tuner.
Unless you are very skilled, I would definitely
NOT advise internal
modifications to any vintage set. It is not practical, it would compromise the
integrity of the design and it is unlikely either to succeed or be safe. Leave
the set in original condition, with deference to any safety modifications, of
Take no risks! Please read
the SAFETY page.