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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS           

IMPORTANT: 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?

A. 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. 

Q. 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. 

Brand-name 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.

Q. I'm 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 are wide-ranging.

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 radio?

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. 

Q. What 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?

A. 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'.

These old 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.

Q. Are 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 fool.

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.

Learn by 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 you?

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.

But that 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 the accolade 'antique' - a sure way to raise the value of anything. (Incredibly, Marconi 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 plaque). 

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, people, dogs...

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 it?

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?

A. Yes, 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.

Q. Can 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 use?

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.

Q. I've 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 selling.

Q. 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 climate), 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 design. 

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 since. 

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?

A. 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 http://rswww.com or the RS catalogues.

Q. Where can I buy cabinet restoration materials?

A. Try Axminster Power Tool Centre on www.axminster.co.uk. Also take a look at 'Links and Sources' on this web site.

Q. Where can I buy valves and spare electronic parts?

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 suitable, too.

Q. I'd prefer to modify the set itself, rather than fit an external tuner.

A. 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 course.

Take no risks! Please read the SAFETY page.

  

 This page carries answers to general questions that often crop up. If you can't find the answer you are looking for on this page or you have a more specific enquiry you are welcome to e-mail me for assistance.

tony(at)vintageradioworld.co.uk

(replace the 'at' with '@')

 

 

VINTAGE RADIO world: SIXTEEN YEARS OF WEB PRESENCE