A Potted History of some famous UK Radio Manufacturers


 Young Eric Kirkham Cole and his girlfriend, the future Mrs.Cole, built radio sets. In 1924, because of interruptions to charge somebody's accumulator or to fix a customer's radio they only averaged half a dozen sets a week. These were the first "Ekco Receiving Sets". One day a freelance journalist, Bill Verrells, who had been looking for something to interest readers in a local paper for which he wrote articles, chose the subject of using the mains to power radio sets rather than the cumbersome accumulator and HT battery. Eric had also been contemplating such a device and he contacted Bill Verrell, and soon, after further development work, and advertising a suitable device, the pair started an enterprise making and selling their new "Battery Eliminator".


Front of a 1931 Instruction Booklet


Advertisement produced in 1931

See some examples of mains eliminators in the Radio Museum

Several different models were sold as some customers had DC mains and others, the more modern, AC mains. If one looks at articles written in those days, ideas were not lacking in using mains voltage for things other than lighting. DC mains battery chargers often consisted of nothing more complicated than a suitable light bulb connected in series with the battery. Mains voltages varied from less than 100 to more than 200 and charts were available for determining the right wattage bulb, the right type (i.e. carbon or tungsten filament) versus the voltage of your supply. No doubt there were lots of puzzled faces when such a technique was attempted with AC mains!
Anyway, business boomed and many local people who were visited bought an eliminator. Because valves had directly heated filaments it wasn't easy to eliminate the accumulator in areas with AC mains. And so because of technical shortcomings in cheap, low-ripple, low voltage rectification, the new AC eliminators catered for HT battery replacement only.

As business was now so good, by mid 1926 Cole had ditched not only repair work but also his long-standing accumulator charging service.
Once valves with indirectly heated filaments appeared things changed dramatically. Now AC mains could be used as a source for heating the valves, and as more and more districts switched from DC to AC mains and sets started to appear with built-in power supplies, the battery eliminator business started to suffer.
In 1927 with funding from local businessmen, a new factory had been built at Leigh-on-Sea, to produce eliminators, and as Ekco turned to radio set production, they expanded, first to premises owned by their various directors and then in 1930, to a very big new factory at Southend-on-Sea.
Business continued to expand at a phenomenal rate and soon their staff had grown from 50 to 1000. In 1930, just as they had been getting into gear, a new material called "Bakelite" had appeared on the scene. AEG were hawking the stuff around in an attempt to get orders to feed their new plant in Berlin and Ekco immediately seeing the advantages of using the new material for their cabinets quickly placed an order.
Unfortunately the Government, perhaps under pressure from lobbyists representing other radio companies, placed a huge import levy on the import of Bakelite cabinets and such was the competitiveness of the industry, that Ekco were forced to build a new plant, equipped with giant presses, for making their own.

Ekco were flying high in their flourishing new pemises and lots of orders when suddenly, in 1932, a fire destroyed their R&D labs. Designs for the 1933 range were lost and the models cobbled together for that year didn't sell too well putting the company into dire straits. By risking all and borrowing a lot of money Cole and Verrell kept the firm afloat and by the end of 1933, helped by the appeal of new stylish Bakelite cases, regained their previous position in the marketplace.

The company did well up to outbreak of war when, after moving to Aylesbury, and a number of smaller sites, to get away from the vulnerable Southend factory, started making military radio and radar equipment. Amongst the new sets were such famous names as the R1155/T1154 produced for Lancaster bombers, the 19 set for tanks, and the Type 46 Walkie Talkie used by the Infantry.
Like taking an umbrella with one to keep rain away, the deserted factory at Southend had escaped unscathed during the heavy bombing during the Battle of Britain and a year after it had been abandoned the Government ordered it to be re-equipped whereupon it re-entered business making wiring harnesses for bombers and a range of bakelite fittings to support the war industry. Because of the speed of change, the number of factories, and volume of business, Ekco's management were floundering. Difficulty working out arrangements for co-ordinating their activities, costing and financial control was taking too much effort and was damaging the business. However with a concerted effort and novel techniques, not only did Ekco succeed to overcome their problems, but they opened further new factories in Preston and in Scotland and became a model for other companies engaged in War Production. A key element to their business was valve production, which now included lamps and special types for radar sets. This had continued during the upheavals at a small factory in Southend and later expanded into their new Preston factory.

After the war Ekco not only made radios and TV receivers in large numbers but, using their new found expertise, produced electronic equipment for the non-domestic market.
In the mid 50's mergers were commonplace and Ekco, not to be left out, had bought the Ferranti brand name and the Dynatron business, a name signifying quality.
In 1973 when most of the household names including Ekco had been absorbed into conglomerates, Ekco TV sets used The Pye "697" Chassis. In the same year, limited radio production with the Ekco badge included an FM only stereo receiver. 1975 brought yet another Pye offering in the shape of the "731" Chassis, and their radio, although having a different model number to its stablemates was really a Pye in disguise. By the end of the decade, because of business and marketing pressures, manufacturers had dropped most of the old names from the 30's although some marques such as Bush and Alba have survived albeit to be manufactured in places like Turkey or the far east.
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