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PRACTICAL WIRELESS

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F.J. Camm edited Practical Wireless for many years, starting in the early 1930s right up to his rather untimely death. Under his guidance, a magazine was developed to suit the needs of everyone interested in the practical side of radio construction. Not for him the theoretical musings of other more laudable tomes - his approach was essentially practical and easily readable. By these means he encouraged many thousands of people to self-build and enjoy a fine hobby activity that, were they not to have seen the content of Practical Wireless, might well have felt that the subject was just too technical, too 'clever' and complex for them. 

In order to cater for as large a potential readership as possible, FJ made a point of offering a range of constructional articles suitable for everyone from the beginner to the experienced and knowledgeable radio amateur and radio service engineer. Always accompanied by point-to-point wiring diagrams designed to assist those not too sure of theoretical circuitry plus clear theoretical schematics, the magazine was required reading for all radio enthusiasts. 

Practical Wireless was a spectacular success story. As Camm forged ahead, one by one, the competitor magazines fell by the wayside. At least one was taken over by Practical Wireless: 'Amateur Wireless' can be seen as part of the banner on the cover shot of the 1939 issue.

There were, and still are, detractors of F.J.'s approach. Some disparagingly call his efforts 'Camm's Comics' (missing the mass-readership point completely, I believe). Yet others disdainfully refer to the term 'practical' as though it carries some stigma, being part of some lower order of reading akin to today's tabloids when compared to the broadsheets. I feel that this is simply misplaced snobbery, a 'holier than thou' approach. 

The magazine was aimed at the radio enthusiast, regardless of ability. Anyone requiring more rigour only needed to peruse Wireless World, the trade journal of distinction. Many chose to read both. Could it really have been misguided for the magazine to balance theory with sound practical advice, to offer guidance to the newcomer with clear, straightforward explanatory text and diagrams? 

If so, then this website and its creator are also guilty as charged - or at least aim to be.

Practical Wireless was noted almost as much for its advertising pages as for its technical content and was an excellent market-place for everything radio. Its broad appeal attracted adverts from set makers as well as kit makers and component suppliers.

It is quite staggering to think that during the 1930s, Practical Wireless was a weekly publication. Anyone scanning the pages today would surely marvel at the amount of material on offer. It is well known that FJ was a workaholic, of course, but even so, it was quite a feat to produce such a quantity of material for so many years. True, it wasn't all written by him - he was backed by a talented technical staff, with draftsmen and graphic artists and there were many contributors - but the fact remains that he and he alone created the magazine. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above, right: artist's impression of a new Goodman's loudspeaker. Above, left: artist's impression of a Baird mirror-drum televisor. From Practical Wireless, September 9th 1933. Both examples represent top quality graphic line art.

Wartime limitations on paper meant a very thin magazine indeed, with fewer pages printed on poorer newsprint, fewer articles, fewer advertisers but once the privations of war were left behind, the situation slowly improved. War exigencies had caused the magazine to become a monthly publication. A permanent change that is understandable: the weekly format of the early days must have been a punishing schedule for FJ and besides, he had other avenues to explore, writing his numerous books and editing several high-volume-selling monthlies, all with a strong 'practical' theme.

Around 1955, four colour letterpress covers displaced the old spot colour format and the magazine had a visual makeover. Happily, the changes did not reach as far as the content. On the sudden loss of FJ in 1959, others bravely tried to fill his shoes and for sure they kept the PW flag flying, but I feel it was never the same. A loss too to the many devotees of his magazine; but the loss to his publishers must have been almost incalculable. His death presaged the end of an era. Although others took up the helm and steered the magazine into the years that followed, the gradual but inevitable decline in popularity of radio construction was mirrored by the continuing reduction in sales until, eventually, the editorial material, together with the ownership of the title, was transformed and finally became the magazine we know today simply as 'PW', of specialised interest to short wave enthusiasts.

January 1955 and 4-colour artwork on a calendared 'gloss' paper has replaced the former black and spot-colour covers. Inside is still monochrome, printed by letterpress (probably rotary stereo plate) on paper closely resembling - and little better than - newsprint. This had traditionally been used as it kept the production costs down but it did mean that photographs, where reproduced, had a coarse screen, just like newspapers of the time. Such pictures were poor on detail.

As a consequence of indifferent paper quality (though it must be said, the paper used in the 1930s does seem rather better than that chosen for later years), in the 1930s graphic line art was regularly used in the magazine but such work required considerable artistic skill and probably eventually self-limited due to price. Certainly from the onset of WWII such graphic extravagance began to be curbed, perhaps partly due to staffing limitations and reductions and where possible drawings and diagrams, such as those used for headings like 'Short Wave Section' were retained for years.

Of course, the policy of providing line art depicting wired layouts for all major projects continued unabated, and schematic work (theoretical diagrams) was always draftsman-produced. In fact, throughout the Camm years and well beyond, the house style of schematic depiction was one of the great strengths of the magazine.

Quite how these later colour covers were created is anyone's guess but they do appear to be either much 'improved' photographs, or at least based upon original photographs, probably monochrome ones. With this example, the colours of the test equipment are anything but true-to-life - you won't find many red-brown Avo meters, nor leaf-green res-cap bridges or bright blue valve testers. The lettering in the lower right corner is quaintly and very evidently hand-drawn. Still, it is bright and very attractive in its now period way, so different from the over-polished magazine covers of today.

If they can do it for Enid Blyton... when, oh when, will someone make a film or TV series about this brilliant man? And he should have been knighted for his services to publishing, to radio, to hobbyists in general.

 

 

The very first edition of Practical Wireless magazine, September 24th 1932. No 'FJ Camm' on the front cover, but he is identified as the editor inside the magazine.

 

1946

This cover shows a magazine greatly reduced in size to 9" X 6.5" (230mm X 165mm) and with less pages. Gone is the dark blue, replaced by a header colour that changed from green to red over the months. There are far fewer adverts than in the glory days before the conflict. Cover price 9d (about 4p).

1955 finds a full-colour (four colour) cover printed on a calendered paper (smooth surface, slight gloss). The full colour treatment is reserved for the front; the back cover is printed in single colour blue.

 

 

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