HRSA - Frequently Asked Questions about old Radios (FAQ)

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Collecting     Specialising     Sources     Disposal     Parts     Repairing     Circuits & Manuals     Valuation     Dating     Sales and Wants     Contacting Collectors    


Early 1920s crystal set The photo shows an early 1920s loose coupled crystal set with a FADA (US) galena crystal. Click on it for a larger view.

This page tries to answer commonly asked questions addressed to the HRSA or its members.

It should be noted that the HRSA currently has no electronic means of forwarding technical queries or other messages to the bulk of the membership. Incoming emails are dealt with by individual committee members and contact with other members is via meetings and the journal. This may change in future.

Collecting

Most HRSA members collect and often restore older radio or audio equipment. Those items considered collectable are any valve based amplifiers or receivers, which were manufactured up to 1970 and solid state equipment of particular interest, such as Australian made or high quality receivers. Some transceivers are also sought, especially vintage amateur or military equipment. There is of course a wide interest in Australian sets, which effectively ceased manufacture by the 1970s, but those from overseas are also collected.

Probably the most popular sets with collectors are the smaller mantel receivers since these take up less space than floor consoles or radiograms.


Specialising

There is still a lot of earlier equipment around, so that most collectors tend to specialise in a particular field after acquiring a few sets. Such areas include vintage radios from the 1920s, bakelite mantel sets, military or commercial equipment or accessories such as speakers, morse keys or microphones.

Most members also have some vintage test equipment either for use when working on older sets or just collecting it.


Obtaining old Radios

Old radio and electronic equipment can be found and acquired from many sources. These include being given radios by friends and relatives (let people know that you are interested in old sets), buying and selling between collectors, local commercial auctions, roadside finds, antique shops or local markets, internet auctions and of course for HRSA members, regular auctions and swap meets held by the HRSA, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne.

Other than donations, the best values are probably found in HRSA or commercial auctions. Both give you a good chance to examine the items without a big mark up in price. Internet auctions can be good if there is something you particularly want but you lose the ability to inspect the items while the wider audience can lead to high prices and usually postal costs.


Disposal

The best disposal method will usually differ from acquisition. To sell one or two items an internet or HRSA auction, if a member, is probably the best way. For greater quantities or a valuable collection and you know what your items are worth, either conduct a private sale, advertised via a web site or if good enough, use a specialised commercial auction house.

Don't forget that the HRSA, as a society, will accept donations to raise funds by selling at an HRSA auction but will not normally purchase items. The HRSA can sometimes assist disposal of deceased estates of both members and non-members either via their auctions or, for a large number of items, an on-site auction may be possible. Please contact your nearest HRSA group for further details


Obtaining spare parts

Parts such as valves are not normally hard to obtain, since stocks held by servicemen and suppliers generally ended up in private hands after such businesses closed down and are not designed for a particular piece of equipment.

Asking around fellow collectors, either at meetings or by putting a request on an internet news group will often work if it is something not stocked by current electronics suppliers. Members can use the yellow pages section of the magazine to advertise sales and wants. See the HRSA Net Links page on this site for some component sources.


Repairing old radios

Now that high street servicemen no longer exist, having an old radio repaired is not so easy unless you have the knowledge and experience to do the work yourself. Some fellow collectors offer a service and advertise in the yellow pages section of the magazine but the HRSA is unable to offer advice in this area. Again you can post a message on a newsgroup and may find a collector who is happy to help out though they do not operate as a business. Another possibility is to attend an HRSA meeting and enquire if anyone can help.


Obtaining Circuits and Manuals

The HRSA has a circuit bank for a lot of Australian radios that is available to members.

From 1938-1955 a series of volumes giving the circuit and component list for most domestic radios was published. Books for sale. These are the "Australian Official Radio Service Manuals" series (AORSM), for which some summary information can be found on this site. A CD of the full set of manuals can be purchased and individual copies come up for sale from time to time. In other cases one can contact other collectors and usually something can be found.

In the case of overseas radios, a search of the internet may be successful with details being either freely available or on sale. Again other collectors may be able to help, especially if the unit is common in Australia. Original manuals are often sought after in their own right.


Valuation of Radios

The HRSA is unable to value radios, since the price depends on so many factors, not least of which is where it is being sold and what a buyer is prepared to pay at that time - not quite as easy as second hand cars.

Listed here are some of the factors affecting value

  • Size is important as large units such as floor standing consoles or radiograms are hard to sell as few collectors have enough space for more than one or two.

  • Age can affect value with the earliest 1920s sets being quite expensive and later 1950s plastic cased radios worth far less.

  • Popularity is important with some sets being considered very desirable, such as AWA "Empire States" or Healing "Scales" that fetch much more than other models from the same factory. In general, bakelite sets are more popular than other types being reasonably small, attractive and not too expensive.

  • Rarity oddly enough is not generally a factor as there is no special interest in a rare wooden radio from an unknown maker or home made sets. Rarity can however affect value for variants of popular radios. Examples might be a bakelite set in a green or blue colour or the Mark I version of a WWII military set where the Mark II is common.

  • Condition is a most important consideration, leaving aside the perennial argument about how you value restoration versus originality. A collectable set in "as new" condition will be worth many times as much as one that is corroded, vermin infested with missing parts and a damaged cabinet.


  • Dating old Radios

    People are often keen to know when a domestic radio was made. Sets made before the early 1920s, when public broadcasting commenced, are rarely seen, so most "old" radios found were made between 1925 and the late 1960s. Listed here are some of the clues to dating old radios.
  • 1920 - 1929

    Radios of this period were mainly of the wooden "coffin" type with a hinged lid at the top and controls at the front, with any frequency indication being 0-100 markings on the large tuning knobs. Components were mounted on a wooden base board and the front panel usually of black ebonite. Many were homemade and have no makers information. Bigger sets had several tuning stages, each with its own knob, which made them hard to tune.

  • 1930 - 1934

    During this period most radios were built into large well made wooden cabinets, often floor standing with access to the works from the back. Dials were small with 0-100 markings, with a single tuning knob and components attached to a metal removable chassis which contained the valves and large components on top, with the wiring and smaller parts underneath. Only the AM broadcast band was covered.

  • 1935 - 1939

    The later 1930s saw larger circular dials with a central pointer, often with stations marked, and sometimes with the addition of short wave bands. As well as wooden sets, some table or mantel cabinets were now made from attractive bakelite mouldings usually in a dark brown or cream colour. The chassis types were similar but with smaller components while 8-pin octal valves became standard over this period. Radiograms were introduced, remaining popular until the 1960s.

    From 1934 until the 1960s nearly all Australian sets had a transfer, usually in blue, labelled ARTS&P on the back of the metal chassis to cover patent licensing. The letter preceding the serial number can give a guide to the year made. From 1934 to 1941 the letters A-F were used, with G-I, or no letter, being postwar.

  • 1940 - 1949

    Few domestic radios were made during WWII but radios of the late 1940s were often similar in size and style to the late 1930s. Miniature valves, introduced during the war, became available and were used initially in the manufacture of small bakelite portable sets. Mains sets now had On/Off switches, usually combined with the volume control.

  • 1950 - 1959

    This decade saw the full introduction of the miniature type of valve and plastic cases gradually replaced bakelite, allowing the introduction of brighter coloured sets. Car and portable radios also became more popular. Towards the end of the period, the first transistor sets came on to the market, usually as portables.

  • 1960 - 1969

    Australian radio manufacturing was superceded by imports towards the end of this period and solid state sets became universal. Station identification on dials fell out of use and FM bands were available on some imported receivers, though no such stations existed here until the 1970s. Size reduction meant that most receivers were plastic cased and portable by the end of the period. Radiograms were superceded by component stereo systems.


  • Wants and Sales

    Please don't ask the HRSA whether any members want to buy or sell something you are interested in. As a society, we have no idea what items individual members may want to buy or sell. Members can advertise their wants, goods or services in our quarterly journal 'Radio Waves', where details of the procedure will be found. Alternatively, you can attend one of our meetings where members will be able to offer advice.

    There are also internet sites where you can buy and sell as well as newsgroups for queries and discussion on historical radio subjects.


    Contacting Other Collectors

    The collection of vintage radios is not a widespread hobby, in part due to its very technical nature where a knowledge of electronics is very desirable if you want to restore sets. Most collectors seek out like minded people for a number of reasons apart from having a common interest to discuss. These include getting manuals and technical information about sets, obtaining advice on various aspects of restoration, buying and selling radios and spare parts or finding someone to repair a set

    Obviously the best way is to join the HRSA and attend regular meetings, however this is not always easy for those in more remote areas, though the HRSA journal provides a a great deal of information and much can be found on the internet, with the more popular sites shown on our links page. Email discussion groups also provide a forum to obtain or discuss technical details.

    Through these means, advice on most matters can be given as collectors are usually happy to share their experience and many have worked professionally in the radio field.


    Additional FAQs

    These will be added from time to time. Please email the webmaster with suggested topics.
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    Page maintained by Ron Soutter. Created: 14/8/08 Updated: 13/9/2012