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RADIO HISTORY: SUNRISE

DESIGN  BEGINNINGS  SUNRISE  SUNSET  ENDINGS  RADIOGRAMS  MAGAZINES  PW  RADIO TIMES  OUT OF PRINT 

LUXEMBOURG  RADIO SERIALS  A GOOD READ  POPULAR WIRELESS

PERSONALITIES  FJ CAMM  FJ AND PW  WELLS COATES  JL BAIRD  MARCONI 

Radio comes of age

There can be little doubt that the decade leading up to WWII became the golden days for radio both in the UK and USA. An unprecedented rise in demand for and ownership of domestic radio receivers created an enormous impetus for manufacturing growth. The development from the small ‘back-of-the-shop’ of the early 1920s to the explosion of major companies of the early 1930s was indeed a phenomenon. Even so, at the turn of the decade - 1930 - and despite advances in assembly and presentation, radios still often had a visual plainness about them. True, fewer sets had separate loudspeakers but functional styling was the norm for most sets.  The larger factories began to implement forms of mass production but the assembly work was labour intensive and sets were costly.

Within the first couple of years, however, drastic changes took place, not least in visual design terms. The old boxes went and in their place came what are nowadays termed 'Art Deco' inspired creations both in veneered timbers and in Bakelite, the versatile thermosetting plastic that freed the designers from the constraints of timber and allowed them free rein. Rapid technical advances allowed the radio to become ever more 'user friendly', moving away from the scientific instrument of earlier days. Just a glance at the typical range of receivers from that era shows an amazing range of design. Ekco (see notes elsewhere on this site for the Ekco story) opened a large factory at Southend on Sea, Essex, employing the services of highly regarded designers to create their Bakelite marvels, the most famous of which is considered by many to be the ‘round’ series by Wells Coates, a brilliant modernist architect who had been involved in some of the design work for Broadcasting House. Others included J.K. White, Ekco's own designer (his cathedral shaped RS2, M23 etc. cabinets of 1931/2 though ‘quaint’ still stand the test of time) and Mischa Black. 

The era of the radiogram began when electromagnetic pick-ups were allied to electrically driven turntables and fitted into large cabinets together with radio chassis and a - generally - large loudspeaker. These machines supplanted the traditional wind-up console gramophones and became a symbol of affluence. Electric amplification was superior to acoustic horn amplification, but radiograms were expensive. An affordable alternative was to obtain a record deck (a motor-driven turntable and pick-up assembly, mounted in a case or a box) and to plug it into the pick-up sockets of the domestic radio. There were commercial products made for this very purpose; 'Plus-a-Gram' was a company that specialised in them. The company later became known for the 'Dansette' series of record players, which of course featured built-in amplifiers.

For more on this topic, see under DESIGN

Meanwhile, television first came about in Britain by the experiments of J. L. Baird. In the early 1930s, he pioneered 30-line television transmissions from Alexandra Palace,  London. There is much more on the amazing J. L. Baird elsewhere on this site. 

It is fair to say that by the mid ‘thirties, much of the development of radio had been completed and for many years after until the commencement of FM radio transmissions radio design remained - technically, at least - pretty static. Incremental improvements by the score there were, certainly, to valves, components and user convenience, but there were also many ‘gimmicks’ of dubious value applied to receivers as selling points; and no great technical innovation unless you count motor tuning, push-button selection, airplane style scale presentation and other stylistic details, none of which add to sound quality or improve reception. All but the most luxurious British sets tended to have no more than three or four receiving valves plus rectifiers, due to the protective cartel of valve manufacturers entitled BVA (British Valve Association). This alliance deliberately kept the cost of valves high whereas in the USA, valves were in a ‘free’ market and sets commonly had a larger valve complement.

 

 

 

PYE 'SUNRISE'

 

EKCO M23

VINTAGE RADIO world: SIXTEEN YEARS OF WEB PRESENCE