Wooden-cased sets of the 30s

A very stylish era....

McMichael Twin Superhet

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 An early walnut McMichael with twin speakers, made in 1934 but looking earlier.

The tuning scale does not have station names and is inscribed 200m to 550m and 800m to1900m so its design pre-dates the 1934 Lucerne Plan that put some formality into the frequency allocations. It must have been a bit galling to bring out an expensive set like this then discover your competitors' models had their dials marked with all manner of exotic station names. Not many sets were sold after 1934 that had these tiny dials, as it was shortly to become the fashion to have large brightly lit types. 1934 was probably the watershed year as the Lucerne Plan enabled manufacturers to have enough confidence in the wavelengths of stations to print them on a dial. This was a big step forward as it meant that listeners didn't have to jot down the settings for their favourite stations. The exotic sounding stations on the dials probably sold more of those sets than the remaining ones still looking behind the times.

The valve line up, all 4 volt heaters, is as follows:-

AC/TP, AC/VP1, AC/VP1, AC2/PenDD and AC/HL.

HT is supplied via a large metal rectifier mounted in the bottom of the case, next to the large mains transformer. Weight is a whopping 45 pounds and it measures 20" high, 19" wide and 10" deep.

"Twin speakers", was one of McMichael's, Slough factories, features and appeared in several of their models around that time. Not only did it sport twin speakers, but McMichael said that their sets having this feature, "ensured stereophonic reproduction". To complement this the Twin Speaker Superhet also had what was claimed to be two entirely new features. First was "Automatic Tone Control", and secondly, "Interstation Noise Suppression". It's a pity that it's appearance is so uninspiring and harks back to the mid to late 20's when performance and low cost were the main aims of manufacturers. As the thirties progressed, sets became more and more attractive, many with Art Deco styling, and most lost the plain "boxy" appearance of earlier models. In fact, shortly after this model had been introduced McMichael brought out a set with a very large dial that hinged upwards as the lid on top of the case was opened (maybe a sort of apology for not being first in the field with flashy dials?). The mechanics of the hinged dial were pretty nasty (using more than a dozen pulleys) and this was soon dropped in favour of an ordinary type.

RGD Model 516

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 When this set finally arrived at the virtual radio museum it looked nothing like this! The sender had taken a lot of trouble to pack it so that no misfortune could befall it. The chassis was removed from the case as this happens sometimes inadvertently if dropped by carriers. The dial glass was separately packed, as were the valves and the loudspeaker. The latter is another problem when despatching across the country as its weight multiplied by extra g-forces will often overcome securing screws. The consequent (un-guided) missile can then destroy sensitive innards. Well Keith, you did a good job and everything arrived unscathed.

The Model 516 is a 3-waveband 4-valve plus rectifier superhet receiver that was first introduced in 1937. This era is famous for fancy dials and this one, with its four lamps, is no exception, being responsible for the overall look of the set. Compare this with my McMichael Twin Speaker set of two years earlier, with its tiny dial.

Why the curved speaker grille? Was it to enable a larger speaker to be fitted in a set otherwise too short for it? And considering the apparent care taken in the styling it was strange that the right hand control defeats the front panel symmetry.

 The receiver uses the older style B7 series of valves that didn't really have a long run, most makers dropping them a year or two later in favour of the American octal style.

In keeping with user demands to hear really distant stations, and to cope with lowish RF valve gain there is an RF amplification stage using a VP4B pentode. The mixer is an exotic AC/TH1 triode heptode followed by another VP4B providing amplification at the intermediate frequency of 460KHz. The latter valve is a variable-mu type so that automatic gain control circuitry can more easily provide a good measure of amplification reduction on stronger signals. This reduces overloading effects such as crosstalk and unwanted heterodyning which would occur when the receiving strong local stations, particularly at night, on medium waves. Another exotic valve is used to provide detection, AGC voltage rectification, low frequency amplification and loudspeaker drive. This is an AC2/PenDD which has to work hard providing enough signal gain between the IF amplifier and speaker. There is also a magic eye, type TV4. These miniature cathode ray tubes were introduced around this date to facilitate accurate station tuning. Because of good AGC it wasn't always easy to tune to the centre of a signal, with the consequent loss of fidelity. It was also a good selling feature. Unhappily few magic eyes have retained enough emission for modern users to see the original effect. A UU4 rectifier completes the complement of valves.

Marconi Model 858 of 1938

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 This solid looking set uses octal valves and has an RF stage, giving particularly good results on its two short-wave bands as well as the usual medium and long waves. The dial is quite comprehensive, listing most of the common stations broadcasting on the short-wave bands by a system of cross-referencing letters to station names listed in the top area of the dial.

There's a magic eye and a very smooth logging scale driven by a small chain. This looked familiar to me and when I opened the back to check inside I also recognised the mains transformer. I was given a similar model to this when I was around 12 or13, which I repaired and used as my first short-wave listening set. I recall listening to Australian and New Zealand radio hams on the 15 metre band in 1954. When I'd dismantled the set as I did with most things, the transformer re-appeared many times over the years in various pieces of home-made equipment.

I paid £13.27 (excluding carriage)for this Model 858, which isn't bad considering it was 14 guineas plus purchase tax back in 1938!

Defiant MSH901 radio

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 This brand of set, made by Plessey from 1933 to post-war was sold by the Co-op. These were the only sets that they could get hold of as their "dividend" cash-back scheme was looked on by the radio wholesalers organisation as a means of unfair price cutting, thus circumventing the very strict re-sale price maintenance rip-off.

Pye Rising Sun

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 This a Pye Model Q (P series) from 1931. The rising sun design, which was introduced in the late 20's was a trademark of Pye but lost favour overnight once Japan joined WWII on the side of the axis forces and people saw their flag. Pye introduced a new model* soon after WWII but there was such an outcry it was quickly dropped.

This particular example was quite cheap because it needs a repair to the case where an accumulator has leaked and the acid has damaged the wood.

The case design is intriguing, having a pair of very solid runners across the top. I can only assume that these were fitted in order to strengthen the case so it could be used as a seat. Construction is extremely good quality for the date it was made, the solid wood sides, top and bottom being joined by mortice and tenon joints of the kind that were found in wooden instrument cases before WWI. The hinged rear door is not a cheap afterthought and there is even a circular revolving plate fitted to the underside so the set can be turned to present its frame aerial to the incoming station.

Controls (tuning, reaction, wavechange and on/off) are visible at the RH side of the case. The set is a TRF design and tunes 900m to 2000m and 220m to 560m. At 29 pounds excluding its batteries it needs stout screws to secure its top carrying handle.

The original valve line-up, based on the Mazda range:- SG215, HL2, HL2 and Pen220.

   The new model... I don't have one because they fetch SILLY prices!


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 This set looks a little peculiar to my eye. The design of the speaker grille looks wrong somehow.

When I removed the back I spotted the label which tells me it's a Model CN243.It also says "Vidor Erith" on the back. Is that the model or the town where it was made?

The answer isn't immediately obvious and relates to the history of the manufacturer....

It goes something like this. Thomas Noah Cole started the Vidor company in 1934, naming it after his daughters and wife, Valerie, Denise and Rebecca. Vidor was a subsidiary of Burndept and this Vidor set looks remarkably like a Burndept receiver of the same vintage. Cole set up the Vidor business in an old gun factory at Erith, Kent.. hence the name "Erith" on the back of the set. You should read more about the exploits of Mr Cole.. they're very interesting. Incidentally, most of the Erith factory was destroyed by German bombs in 1941. Maybe they thought it was still making guns? Manufacture of batteries moved to Dundee and South Shields but the Erith factory re-opened after the war and made portable radios and television sets.

I suspect, like its Ever Ready counterparts, that the set was the product of an out-of-control design department. Ever Ready introduced their sets to sell more Ever Ready batteries. They were battery sets, at least they started out that way. The Ever Ready designers decided to spread their wings, as it were, and branched out into mains sets. Perhaps Vidor did the same? Certainly they wouldn't sell many Vidor batteries for this model as it's an AC/DC set that works from mains.

It was probably a daft idea anyway. One could equally fit an Ever Ready battery as a Vidor battery into a battery powered Vidor set. Maybe it was dreaded cheaply imported "foreign" batteries caused the firms to cut their losses and branch out into mains sets, but I suspect it was probably just fierce competion between Ever Ready and Vidor...?

Marconi Model 314

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 Made in 1937, this must be one of the last TRF sets made. Another odd thing is that it's a battery model that's not made for portable use. Even in the late 30s some homes were without electricity, relying on gas for lighting and cooking. As late as 1968, when I bought my first house (for the princely sum of £900), our next-door neighbours still had gas fittings in all their rooms (just in case they didn't get on with the electric). Valves are an S23 tetrode, an HL2 triode and a PT2 pentode output valve.

 A Lissen Kenilworth, Model 8453

 Lissen were purchased by Ever Ready in 1938 so it's not surprising that Lissen badged sets were fitted with Ever Ready valves.

 This is a substantial table model from the late 1930s using 5 Ever Ready valves, mainly B7 based, which are now very rare.

As information is hard to come by I've listed some of their equivalents.

A36B; Triode Heptode equivalent to AC/TH1, X41, TH4A, 20A1

A50P; Pentode equivalent to AC/VP2, MVS/PENB, W42, VP4B

A23A; Double diode triode equivalent to AC/HLDD, DDT, H4D, MHD4, DH42, TDD4, 11A2

A70D; Pentode output equivalent to AC2/PEN, 42MP/PEN, KT41, PENA4, 7A3

A11D; Double diode rectifier equivalent to IW4/350, R2 etc etc

 Below is a copy of the circuit diagram (note V2 is wrongly specified)

Click the circuit to see the whole article.

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