The good old days ?


 Lately I've been reading old radio magazines dating from the late 20's and early 30's.

One thing that is immediately apparent is the claim by all the advertisers' that their product is best.

Valve manufacturers advocate chucking away all your valves and buying their make because "only with theirs will you benefit from superlative reception etc".

Speaker manufacturers' claim that their product is "as near to nature as reproduced sound can ever be", or their product is merely "fully guaranteed to be Electrically, Mechanically and Acoustically perfect".

Phrases such as "perfect symetry", "elegance of design", "maximum efficiency on every technical point", "manufacturer's unique experience in the production of wire", "exhaustive experiments", "amazing", "unparalleled", "remarkably low price", "wonderfully realistic tone" etc etc lead one to believe that radio had reached its absolute pinnacle of perfection....

...all this in 1931?

It still goes on though because now seventy years later, every half hour on Classic FM we are told to abandon steam radio and buy a digital receiver at a staggeringly low price of £300 or whatever. Things never change. When prices are horribly high we are told that the price is amazingly low. Take for example the last motorway cafe on the road to Dover.. a huge sign implores us to buy a cup of tea for a dramatically reduced bargain price, never to be repeated etc of £2.99! I can still remember, in the last days of steam, a cup of British Rail tea for a penny or a large mug for twopence (twopence was actually less than 1p or 0.016 Euro).

 In the late 40s, 50s and early 60s magazines were full of adverts like these as Government Departments uncovered vast heaps of wartime equipment and deemed it to be obsolete.

This went on for more than 25 years,and still does to a lesser extent, although nowadays its just equipment that has been superseded and it often doesn't have the aura surrounding it as some of these had.

Most equipment though was just dropped into old mine shafts or smashed to pieces for its scrap metal content.

Although the prices look cheap by todays "Monopoly Money" standards, £6:19:6d in 1958 represented a good chunk of a working man's weekly wage. I was given an R208 and when I'd fiddled with it I gave it to someone else. I bought a modified R1155 for £3 from my school teacher and a brand new T1154 from a local emporium for £1:10:0s. I could have saved sixpence if I'd sent away for it but then I would have had to pay ten bob carriage.

The R208

 The "Sputnik" was the world's first artificial orbital satellite.

Launched by Russia, it used to transmit hesitant-sounding bleeps on 20MHz giving listeners their first ever experience of doppler shifted radio signals.

It also lead to the "Space Race" as the USA, smarting from being beaten into orbit, threw everything they had in trying to get, first a man into orbit, then to the moon.

Looking back at the (un)reliability of computers it is a miracle that they managed to achieve a successful moon landing and an even greater achievement (often overlooked) to get them back!

Not surprisingly a lot of people thought it was all faked, being all filmed in a large shed in the Arizona desert!

The T1154 from the Lancaster bomber and below its companion receiver the R1155

 The transmitter was a fascinating equipment having large brightly coloured red, blue and yellow control knobs. Inside were two PT15 valves not much smaller than milk bottles. The power supply was such that inside the case were loads of enormous green-coloured ceramic resistors some of which I recall were not far short of a foot long. The efficiency of the set must have been very poor but no doubt in operation must have warmed the inside of the aircraft by a few degrees although I suppose it would not have been used for more than a few minutes on each operational trip.

There was also a huge iron cored variable inductor housed in a frame. Clearly there was so much power available from the four Merlin engines, weight and power consumption were not paramount considerations.

If you want to see a typical installation, there are a few round the country in museums. I can recommend the "Imperial War Museum", where part of a Lancaster fuselage is there for you to walk through.

 One can only hypothesise about the descriptions "Grade 1" and "Grade 2". Perhaps Grade 1 was well twiddled and looking worn but Grade 2 may have had the odd hole in the case from Ack Ack shrapnel or where canon shells had passed through it.

Now, the same receivers, after another 45 years in the hands of their buyers, are fetching around £85 to £100. Looking at pictures of those for sale, most, if not all of them appear to have been in the "Grade 2" category. At first sight todays prices look high; but in fact if one compares the average weekly wages for the two periods, the 1155 is now worth only about £4. It was therefore not a good investment, except of course for the inestimable hours of pleasure they must have given the users.

I bought several 1941 copies of Wireless World recently, intrigued to see what was going on in the field of Radio in the early stages of WWII. Several things caught my eye. I thought that the Magnetron was really secret but there on the "Patents Page" was a description of the Magnetron. I thought that the German beam system, used to direct their bombers over England, was really hush hush but there were a couple of patents describing the principles. Up till I saw this I'd thought that clever chaps during the early part of the war had thought it up.

Then there was the warning about TV. In 1941 it was imagined that the war would shortly be over and TV would start up again. In the USA the scan rate was one-up on the 405 line standard used in the UK. We were being advised that we should adopt the US 451 line standard so that the public could easily tune into American signals. That was early in 1941 but later that year it was announced that the US was going to use 525 lines.

In 1941 America was all set to enter the field of FM broadcasting. Not in Band II but around 50MHz or so. FM was the new up and coming mode of transmission, in fact in one magazine it was said that German bombers were using FM in their state-of-the-art receivers.

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