Historical Radio Societyof Australia
Frequently Asked Questions
Remember unless you are an expert, never work on a radio that is plugged into the wall and power on. Vintage radios not only operate from 240 volts AC mains, they produce up to 400 volts DC, both lethal. Televisions have about 15,000 volts!
The HRSA cannot be responsible for your safety, so take care. Each mains-operated radio sold in Victoria at a HRSA meeting must have the following label prominantly afixed:
ELECTRICITY SAFETY ACT 1998 SECOND-HAND DANGER – DO NOT USE OR CONNECT TO SUPPLY THIS ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT MAY BE FAULTY AND SHOULD BE INSPECTED AND TESTED BY A COMPETENT PERSON IN ACCORDANCE WITH AS/NZS 3760 PRIOR TO USE
Other states have similar requirements.
Most HRSA members collect and often restore older radio or audio equipment. Those items considered collectable are any valve based amplifiers or receivers, which were manufactured up to 1970 and solid state equipment of particular interest, such as Australian made or high quality receivers. Some transceivers are also included, especially vintage amateur or military equipment.
There is of course a wide interest in Australian sets, which ceased manufacture by the 1970s, but radios from overseas are also collected. Probably the most popular sets with collectors are the smaller mantel receivers since these take up less space than floor consoles or radiograms.
There is still a lot of earlier equipment around, so most collectors tend to specialise in a particular field after acquiring a few sets. Areas include vintage radios from the 1920s, Bakelite mantel sets, military or commercial equipment or accessories such as speakers, Morse keys or microphones.
Most members also have some vintage test equipment either for use when working on older sets or just collecting.
Obtaing vintage radio sets and equipment
Old radio and electronic equipment can be found and acquired from many sources. These include being given radios by friends and relatives (let people know that you are interested in old sets), buying and selling between collectors, on-line, local commercial auctions, roadside finds, antique shops or local markets, internet auctions and of course for HRSA members, regular auctions and swap meets held by the HRSA, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne.
Other than donations, the best values are probably found in HRSA or commercial auctions. Both give you a good chance to examine the items without a big mark up in price. Internet auctions can be good if there is something you particularly want, but you lose the ability to inspect the items while the wider audience can lead to high prices and usually steep postal costs.
Selling vintage radios
To sell one or two items including them in a HRSA auction, (if a member), is probably the best way. The web reaches a big audience, but fees and postage can be very high. For greater quantities or a valuable collection and you know what your items are worth, either conduct a private sale, advertised via a web site or if good enough, use a specialised commercial auction house. The latter have high fees.
The HRSA, as a not for profit society, will accept donations to raise funds by selling at an HRSA auction but will not normally purchase items. The HRSA can sometimes assist with the sale of deceased estates of both members and non-members either via their auctions or, for a large number of items, an on-site auction may be possible. Please contact your nearest HRSA group for further details.
Obtaining spare parts
HRSA has 50,000 valves, all tested, many new. The valve bank offers:
- new valves
- tested used valves
- a range of spare parts, such as capacitors
Asking fellow collectors, either at meetings or by putting a request on an internet news group can work if it is something not stocked by the HRSA or electronics suppliers.
Members can use the yellow pages section of the HRSA Radio Waves magazine to advertise sales and wants.
See the HRSA Links page on this site for some component sources.
Repairing your radio
Now that radio stores and their servicemen no longer exist, having an old radio repaired is not so easy unless you have the knowledge and experience to do the work yourself. If you are in any doubt, search the internet in your area as there some specialists doing repairs. Furthermore, some fellow collectors offer a service and advertise in the yellow pages section of the magazine. Again you can post a message on a newsgroup and may find a collector who is happy to help. Another possibility is to attend an HRSA meeting and enquire if anyone can help. Or you can read our magazine and text books, to develop your own skills. Remember unless you are an expert, never work on a radio that is plugged into the wall with power on.
Obtaing circuits and manuals
HRSA has a circuit service for many Australian radios. The service is available to members.
Please follow the following steps:
- check whether the required circuit is available in one of the HRSA’s Circuit Books.
- visit XXXX and place your order
If there is not a book, please contact the HRSA Circuits Manager, Bruce Wilkie.
From 1938-1955 a series of volumes giving the circuit and component list for most domestic radios was published. These are the “Australian Official Radio Service Manuals” series (AORSM). A CD of the full set of manuals can be purchased and individual copies come up for sale from time to time. In other cases you can contact other collectors and usually something can be found.
In the case of overseas radios, a search of the internet may be successful with details being either freely available or on sale. Again other collectors may be able to help, especially if the unit is common in Australia. Original manuals are often sought after in their own right.
What is your radio, Valuation of radios and associated equipment
The HRSA is unable to value radios, since the value depends on so many factors, not least of which is where it is being sold and what a buyer is prepared to pay at that time – not quite as easy as second hand cars.
Listed here are some of the factors affecting value:
- Colours are popular and higher priced, as there were less coloured cabinets made than the common brown.
- Size is important as large units such as floor standing consoles or radiograms are hard to sell as few collectors have enough space for more than one or two.
- Age can affect value with the earliest 1920s sets being quite expensive and later 1950s plastic cased radios worth far less. An interesting trend recently is the value of 1920s radios is falling.
- Popularity is important with some sets being considered very desirable – mostly due to attractive designs, such as AWA “Empire State” or Healing “Scales” that fetch much more than other models from the same factory. In general, Bakelite sets are more popular than other types being reasonably small, attractive and not too expensive.
Its interesting to note that the AWA brown Empire State radios are not rare, but so sought after, prices exceed $1,000 for an example in good order. Colours like green can be $10,000 upwards.
- Rarity oddly enough is not generally a factor, as there is no special interest in a rare wooden radio from an unknown maker or home made sets. Rarity can however affect value for variants of popular radios. Examples might be a Bakelite set in a green or blue colour or the Mark I version of a WWII military set where the Mark II is common. Spy Radios are usually highly sought-after, with top prices.
- Condition is a most important consideration, leaving aside the perennial argument about how you value restoration versus originality. A collectable set in “as new” condition will be worth many times as much as one that is corroded, vermin infested with missing parts and a damaged cabinet.
Dating your radio
People are often keen to know when a domestic radio was made. Sets made before the early 1920s, when public broadcasting commenced, are rarely seen, so most “old” radios found were made between 1925 and the late 1960s. Listed here are some of the clues to dating old radios.
1920 – 1929
Radios of this period were mainly of the wooden “coffin” type with a hinged lid at the top and controls at the front, with any frequency indication being 0-100 markings on the large tuning knobs. Components were mounted on a wooden base board and the front panel usually of black ebonite. Many were homemade and have no makers information. Bigger sets had several tuning stages, each with its own knob, which made them hard to tune.
1930 – 1934
During this period most radios were built into large well made wooden cabinets, either cathedral mantel, or floor standing console, with access to the works from the back. Dials were small with 0-100 markings, with a single tuning knob and components attached to a metal removable chassis which contained the valves and large components on top, with the wiring and smaller parts underneath. Only the AM broadcast band was covered. Bakelite radios began in this era.
1935 – 1939
The later 1930s saw larger circular dials with a central pointer, often with stations marked, and sometimes with the addition of short wave bands. Also wooden sets, some table or mantel cabinets were now made from attractive Bakelite mouldings, usually in a dark brown or cream colour. The chassis types were similar but with smaller components, while 8-pin octal valves became standard over this period. Radiograms were introduced, remaining popular until the 1960s.
From 1934 until the 1960s nearly all Australian sets had a transfer, usually in blue, labelled ARTS&P on the back of the metal chassis to cover government fees for listening to a radio. The letter preceding the serial number can give a guide to the year made. From 1934 to 1941 the letters A-F were used, with G-I, or no letter, being postwar.
1940 – 1949
Few domestic radios were made during WWII but radios of the late 1940s were often similar in size and style to the late 1930s. Miniature valves, introduced during the war, became available and were used initially in the manufacture of small Bakelite portable sets. Mains sets now had On/Off switches, usually combined with the volume or tone control.
1950 – 1959
This decade saw the full introduction of the miniature type of valve and plastic cases gradually replaced Bakelite, allowing the introduction of brighter coloured sets. Car and portable radios also became more popular. Towards the end of the period, the first transistor sets came on to the market, usually as portables.
1960 – 1969
Australian radio manufacturing was superseded by imports towards the end of this period and solid state sets became universal. Station identification on dials fell out of use and FM bands were available on some imported receivers, though no FM stations existed here until the mid 1970s. Size reduction meant that most receivers were plastic-cased and portable by the end of the period. Radiograms were superseded by component stereo systems.
Wants and sales
Members can advertise their wants, goods or services in our quarterly journal ‘Radio Waves’, where details of the procedure will be found. Alternatively, you can attend one of our meetings where members will be able to offer advice.
There are also internet sites where you can buy and sell as well as newsgroups for queries and discussion on historical radio subjects.
Contacting other collectors and meetings
Most collectors seek out like minded people for a number of reasons apart from having a common interest to discuss. These include getting manuals and technical information about sets, obtaining advice on various aspects of restoration, buying and selling radios and spare parts or finding someone to repair a set.
Obviously the best way is to join the HRSA. Many enjoy attending regular meetings, and members in remote areas mainly keep informed through Radio Waves magazine, and this web site. Of course members who travel to areas where there are meetings are most welcome to visit. Non-member guests are also welcome, though most Auctions and Sales are for members only.
A great deal of information and much more can be found on the internet, with the more popular sites shown on our Links page. Email discussion groups also provide a forum to obtain or discuss technical details.
Through these means, advice on most matters can be given as collectors are usually happy to share their experience and many have worked professionally in the radio field.
We wish you well in your collecting, and hope you will become a member of our society.