Vintage Domestic Radios

Ekco A.W.70. Circa 1938

Due to the large numbers of domestic radio receivers ('wireless sets' as they were popularly called) that have been discarded over the years, those that survive have become quite collectable and certainly worth preserving. Collecting vintage wireless sets has been a growing hobby for many years, with the sets having Bakelite cabinets being especially popular. When properly cleaned and polished Bakelite does have a very attractive glow when the light catches it, as can be seen from the 1939 Ekco All Wave 70 model pictured here.Bakelite has the added advantage of being unattractive to woodworm, a considerable problem for wooden cased sets!The plywood used in their construction seems to be very attractive to wood boring insects.

Vintage Radio Restoration

I can offer a range of services for vintage receivers, ranging from the basic 'get it working again' repair to a full restoration that will give the set a new lease of life. A growing trend with my customers is to restore sets that they have inherited from relatives. This gives a working heirloom that can be used on a daily basis and as a lasting reminder of a family member.
Cabinet restoration depends on the desired result. As already mentioned, Bakelite cabinets respond very well to cleaning and polishing. Cracks and chips are more of a problem, but can be disguised unless they are very serious.
Cellulose lacquered wooden cabinets were popular as this finish provided a high gloss. Cellulose does suffer from cracking and is easily chipped or scratched. Minor cracking or crazing can sometimes be cured with a wipe over with cellulose thinners. I would recommend stripping a more seriously damaged finish. The cabinet will often reveal an attractive veneer when stripped. This gives the choice of respraying with cellulose or enhancing the veneer with wax polish finish. The choice is yours, but time involved can make this quite expensive.

Decisions, decisions!

When considering having Grandpa's old radio restored it is always wise to ask 'is it worth restoring?' The 'Golden Age of Wireless', before television became the prime source of family entertainment, produced some very high quality sets that were the focal point in the family living room. As TV sets became more popular during the 1950s, manufacturers concentrated more on their TV set ranges. Generally speaking radios produced after the mid 1950s were already taking a back seat to the TV set. Radios were being made cheaper and with the arrival of the transistor,more portable, making them ideal for casual listening during the day, while the TV set provided the main entertainment in the evening.The advent of VHF in the mid 1950s meant that many radios built from then on included a VHF FM band. Radios of this type are more useful today as many stations, such as the BBC's Radios 1, 2 and 3 only broadcast on VHF. BBC Radio 4 continues on Long Wave, but for how long? Many European countries are already closing down their Long and Medium Wave Services. This is due to DAB radio taking over.

DAB ( Dreadful Audio Broadcasting?)

Europe is fortunate to have adopted the DAB+ standard, while the UK is lumbered with a dreadful, partial DAB service that uses MP2 compression. It all seemed like a good idea at the time, but the original standard adopted in the UK is not up to the job. I suspect Ofcom was in a hurry to shut down the VHF FM service so as to sell off the radio spectrum that it uses to the highest bidder.This DAB standard was not good in the first place and has been further compromised by the ever decreasing bit rates being used as more and more stations are crammed on to the service. Some DAB stations now sound little better than Medium Wave stations and are even broadcasting in mono! There are too many DAB radios already in use for an upgrade to DAB+ to be on the cards. The two standards are not compatible, so people would have to scrap their old DAB radio and buy a new one if the network was upgraded to DAB+. In view of this I can't see the VHF FM service being switched off for many years to come as DAB will not be able to provide a quality alternative.

The Rolls Royce of Table Top Radios

Most of these later valve radios are not the imposing pieces of furniture that some of the older sets were, but they can look quite attractive if sympathetically restored. From the point of view of usability the classic 1930s Bakelite or wood cased radio is at a disadvantage because it will only receive Long Wave, Medium Wave and perhaps Short Wave stations. BBC Radio 4 is still available on Long Wave while BBC 5 Live, Talk and various local stations are available on Medium Wave. Even Luxembourg has now ceased MW broadcasting, having stopped their English language programmes on 208 Metres several years ago. The Short Wave Band is good for listening to overseas stations, but these are not quite as numerous as they were a few years ago.

The more prestigious 'Continental' style radios of the 1950s are well worth restoring. These were mainly made by manufacturers such as Grundig, Graetz, Loewe Opta, Nordmende, Phillips and even Bush in the UK.They often have multiple loudspeakers, piano key band selection, magic eye tuning indicators and very decent sound quality. They have a 'Gram' input option for connecting a gramophone turntable to play through the radio's speakers. This input can easily be adapted to take the output of an MP3 player, smartphone or tablet with a suitable connecting lead. This gives the radio another use and a further lease on life.
If your radio really was grandpa's it will probably have special, sentimental value, but it is always nice for it to have a practical purpose rather than just be a decorative item gathering dust.