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RADIO HISTORY: ENDINGS

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The decline of the British valve Radio

From the start in the 1920s, amateur radio construction continued apace, both from kits and from scratch, perhaps with guidance from one of the popular radio construction magazines. This remained an admirable and creative hobby interest for all technically-minded folk until well into the 1950s and beyond. By the early 1960s, perhaps because of the development of television and the transistor, radio construction was in gradual but inevitable decline, although stereophonic amplifiers and Hi-Fi systems were valved - and usually, very good they were, too.

In 1955, the popularity of British radio, steadily losing ground in audience terms to TV, saw a slight reprieve when the first VHF transmitter opened at Wrotham, frequency modulation being chosen as the best compromise for quality after many years of testing and experimentation. That year, licences approached the 14 million mark but fully 4.5 million were combined.

The following year, PAM (an unheralded subsidiary of Pye) brought out the first all-transistor receiver to be manufactured in the UK, pointing the way to the demise of the widespread use of the thermionic valve and bringing to a lingering end the great days of valve radio. Then, quite quickly it seems, gone was the individual flair that characterised the best of the 1930s and 1940s. No longer was there the occasionally startling, occasionally, even, banal but sometimes brilliant design flair of the pioneering designers and the big cabinets, sonorous loudspeakers, Art Deco motifs and special sound quality that only vacuum tube electronics seems to create were all suddenly outmoded as home entertainment sources. The great convenience, compactness, novelty and immediacy of the transistor radio left the lumbering valve radios of old unloved and unwanted, doomed to the attic or worse, the rickety, damp shed complete with mildew and voracious woodworm.  

Although the valve went on for many years, first in mains radios and then in TVs - even colour TVs where their sheer power handling qualities could not be matched by the early, relatively primitive transistor - the great radio days were all too soon consigned to history, all too quickly replaced by the anonymous uniformity of style, form and colour that we know today. 

Such is the way of 'progress': it was ever so. Out with the old, in with the new. As it has to be, of course; yet there remains a need, part nostalgic, part appreciative, for the technology of the past. Whatever the case, it must be right that the technology is kept alive for future generations to marvel at. Outmoded, certainly, but far from being crude, valve technology was and remains an impressively clever, complex technical system devised by some of the greatest minds ever to have existed.

Valve technology lives on in Hi-Fi circles and valve amplifiers command incredibly high prices from those who believe that only the valve can deliver true sound quality.

Those magnificently engineered steam locomotives no longer pull the trains carrying the bulk of the nationís rail passengers, but many thousands flock to see them in museums and better still, working in full steam. Vintage motorcycles and cars may seem to some to be illogical things to own and drive, with none of the safety and convenience of todayís vehicles, yet they too have their adherents and many thousands of us flock to rallies every year. Thanks to the convenience of Diesel turbine and electric engines, the steam-powered ocean liners of old are gone and today's sailing boats are relegated to being rich men's toys, but try telling that to amateur sailors.  Valve and vintage radios have their enthusiasts also, and these are a relatively small but enthusiastic crowd. For every committed enthusiast there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, who have a definite interest. Attend any vintage radio show - there are numerous of these in any year - and you will see just how popular old radio receivers are.

Few of us can resist looking in awe and appreciation when one or more vintage steam locomotive, traction engine, boat or car come into view. So it is with radio - or as it was once called, wireless: wonderful wireless. 

 

 

PYE transportable, early 1930s

 

PAM transistor radio 1956

VINTAGE RADIO world: SIXTEEN YEARS OF WEB PRESENCE