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On the pages accessed in this section by the navigation block above you can find a glimpse of of some of the setmakers in what once was a great industry in the United Kingdom (or Great Britain and Northern Ireland as it was usually referred to in those far-off days last century), although to cover every maker, large and small, would take more than the space used by this entire website - so this should be seen as being by way of a brief introduction to some of the radios still around today, despite the fact that the people who designed and made them are in almost all cases long departed.

After the haphazard, piecemeal start of radio manufacture in the early 1920s, when some 'firms' might consist of little more than a man and his apprentice working over a cycle repair shop or in a garden shed, things gradually became more orderly and gained momentum. During the rapid expansion of radio in the 1930s, a great many makers, large and small, well-funded and under-capitalised, dipped their toes experimentally in the great and upwelling sea of radio manufacturing. Many grew into highly profitable concerns during the latter half of the decade until war brought expansion to a shuddering halt. At the end of hostilities, the bulk of of these makers remained and many, with an eye to further expansion, widened their remit to cover the developing television audience. Brave though their efforts were and regardless of the fact that the number of makers in the UK post war radio and television industry could be counted in hundreds, many of these were still relatively small fry; as the 1950s progressed, the smaller firms, losing the battle in an ever-growing and ever costlier peace-time war for market share, slowly but inevitably went under; unable to compete with the amalgamating and growing giants. Today, few of even the largest of these once famous names remain under original control: Philips is one notable exception.

It is easy to forget in these days of the inexpensive 'luxury' goods that electronic products have become, that in the early part of the last century, radio receivers were extremely expensive - and were therefore highly prized status symbols. They were very costly to produce, too: but with retail price maintenance holding off competition, the market was a lucrative one. The wooden cabinets, practically hand built, could not be economically produced to sell in quantity today, more's the pity. Even the Bakelite mouldings would be too expensive to consider producing, given the likelihood of a relatively low demand.

In fact, the amount of work that went into even the most basic radio receiver would today render it completely uneconomic to produce, at least to the standards commonly found in vintage sets. In truth, economic considerations caused the demise of almost all the UK radio and TV manufacturing base during the latter half of the 20th century. It is little wonder that makers went to the wall when faced with the economics of mass-production from the far east, where labour and resources were at that time extremely low cost.

Take apart any British radio built in the first half of the 20th century and you will see evidence of complex engineering; so complex that it may surprise those young enough not to have seen valve technology before. Once the chassis is free from the finely crafted wooden cabinet with its quality veneer or the smart, Art Deco overtones of the Bakelite moulding, it can be a revelation to see just how very skilled and clever the designers and engineers employed by these makers were. In an age where the computer and the microchip simplify computation and design tasks and flimsy cases consist entirely of thermoplastic injection mouldings, it is easy to forget that the radio engineers of yesteryear had no such facilities at their disposal - not even a pocket calculator. They seemed not to understand the term 'simplification'; and here I do nor refer to circuitry, though often there was clever elaboration; but in construction techniques. The metalwork and bracketry used in the average chassis are formidable in size, processing and accuracy. The glass dials alone often show artwork of a high quality and this is all before the components are even mentioned - the multiple ganged variable capacitors (themselves a work of engineering art), the complicated switches, the power transformers, the variable resistors and, of course, the delicately engineered marvels of the valves themselves.

Now read on...

 

 

VINTAGE RADIO world: SIXTEEN YEARS OF WEB PRESENCE