So here I am, working too hard to restore this…artifact from a time when broadcasting was still in its early childhood. By today’s standards, much of what was on radio then was, to say the least, primitively simple. However, this radio does not seem to reflect this simplicity.
This electromagnetic wave super-heterodyne receiver converter demodulator was a revolutionary technological advancement in electronic design and engineering. But what came through it was… Where in the ionosphere was there intellectuality and artistic depth?
Like the Edison cylinder player I have, this radio’s technology was outstanding. However, what came through these instruments was… It’s like the big screen home theater of today. Rarely have I heard or seen anything of quality come through my high definition digital surround sound HDTV.
I can’t figure it out. People of supposed great wealth purchase these things only to hear…
As for my cylinder player that cost the original owner $3000 in 2009 dollars, I came across several 1910 cylinders of actors portraying blacks in horrible undignified slapstick skits, including some white guy saying something derogatory about "big lips" and kissing. With the exception of one cylindrical recording, the content of the other fifty or so recordings in my collection are literally…
The same was true for radio. Most of what was produced was just... I have access to recorded broadcasts from 1923 to…now. There are hundreds of thousands of hours of programs, very little of it... This includes the very popular Amos and Andy show, which lasted nearly thirty years. Get my drift?
If I keep this radio, it will serve to remind me of what was and what wasn’t.
Last evening I finally gave up trying to restore this conveyance of ... to its original condition and resided myself to installing its various components in its far less than correctly refinished cabinet. After all, it lived in some barn for 50 years.
When I got this radio, the cabinet was so badly pitted and the decorative veneer was peeling off all over, not to mention the stains that were everywhere. I had to glue the existing curling flaking veneer back on, add new and color it so it matched, glue the solid wood pieces back together and sand everything. I then matched the existing color which I found on a part of the cabinet that was hidden under the dial. To finish it, I used nearly a gallon of heavy lacquer thinned down with a gallon of lacquer thinner
But, the cabinet still showed signs of damage. Then to top things off, I came across pictures of an original 116x on the web and thought I had dyed the veneer parts too dark. The various ones pictured were where the veneer parts were originally lighter with dark wood accents. However, my radio’s original finish seemed very dark…what little of it remained. It probably was finished in a custom color. They sometimes did that back then.
I thought of going on the web and getting its reproduction name decal, but…the radio still has problems. “The quality goes in before the name goes on…” from an old Zenith commercial I heard when I was a kid. There are still a number of intermittent failures in its 75 year old circuitry.
The thing this project will remind me of is…I’m not that good at restoration. What the heck, it’s done. It's lucky to still be alive.
To date, I probably spent well over $200 trying to give this thing new life. This included electronic parts, reproduction grill cloth, and the lacquer.
In the 1970s, I would have just set it out at the curb for trash. But, now it needed to be saved.
This radio came from…God knows where. Some Westside hippies found it and gave it to a buddy of mine named Steve. He put it in this beat-up old farm house he has down in Wooden Shoe Hollow. This derelict nearly destroyed radio seemed to fit right in.
I noticed it but paid it little attention…for about 15 minutes. I thought it was a 1940s radio and felt it would be nearly impossible to restore its fragile electronics. Besides, it wasn’t from the 1920s era, the period of radios I tended to collect.
Radios from the roaring 20s were built of primitive components and they did not go bad with time. These early bear skins and bone knives radios did not get hot. Resisters were wire wound and oversized. Capacitors were made of mica and copper cladding; virtually indestructible. It was when manufacturers went to wax, paper, aluminum, carbon, cathode tubes and higher voltages is when a radio’s vital components started failing with heat, use and age.
Well…looking closely at the radio in this beat-up house, I noticed it was made up of several schools of design. Its small oval dial window seemed reminiscent of a much earlier style radio, say circa 1920s. The front seemed to be Art Decoish. The 20s were the Art Deco period. I then thought, “Hmmm, this may be of the period of radios I have in my collection.”
While we were drinking beer, talking and I was staring at the radio, Steve suddenly asked me if I wanted it. I kind of mumbled something doubtful. He then egged me on by offering to take it to my house. I skeptically responded “…OK.” I was thinking, “The trash man doesn’t care which way he gets it.”
Another interesting thing I noted while loading it into the back of his van, its decal said: "PHILCO High Fidelity". That’s an oxymoron, especially given its supposed age. I also noticed the four speakers. I briefly tried to find the wires that connected them.
Well with reluctance, it did make its way to my woodshop where it sat in the way for nearly five months. Then I decided to take the thing apart. What a mess. There was a thick layer of black greasy dust caked all over everything.
Then when I turned over the chassis, I said, “No 1926 technology here.” I then thought disappointedly, “This thing had to have been made in at least the late 30s; more likely the early 40s.” Finally I somberly said, “Oh boy, wax capacitors…everywhere. Time for the trash!”
After further examination, “Hay, I took one of these apart in high school,” I reflected.
Yes, there were a number of familiar components there. Up until the late 70s, these same components were used for nearly 50 years.
So then…it's off to the web to lookup schematics. I finally
found one. On it, it said, "1933." Hmm.
After restoring this radio’s functionality, I found its tuner to be as sensitive as a modern day receiver. Also, no wonder they could get away with calling it high fidelity. After listening to my 1926 Atwater Kent, this thing sounded wonderful. Esoteric hifi nuts still use the final output tubes found in this radio in their custom built valve amps.
Another peculiar thing about this radio is its passive radiators (Philco called these resonators). There are three of them; two smaller ones and one large one. Philco put different sizes of these in their high end radios for several years. They added seemingly useless speakers in a number of tall cabinet radios including their most expensive models.
Imagine, if you would, the Philco salesman saying, “It has four speakers.” Little did the naive rich guy realize, three of them really did nothing. Philco did go through an awful lot of trouble to put them in there though.
These radios weren’t cheap. The 116x cost about $2,700 in 2009 dollars. So, it was the rich who could purchase these…especially that soon after the depression.
Still I can’t help but ask myself, “What did those people listen to?” Maybe it was music.
You-know, at one time my parents had literally hundreds of classical 78s. These records did come from the time of this radio. In fact, there is an aftermarket phono/radio adapter switch mounted on the back of this radio to accept a phonograph. It was designed to be shunted between the detector and the input grid cap of the first preamplifier tube.
So this radio is done. However, I will not accept the donation of another one. One is enough. It's a huge box the size of a small chest of drawers. And, the cost of restoring it will not pay for itself. My wife wants me to list it on eBay. I seriously doubt I could get any real money for it.
As far as my wife is concerned, my stuff speaks of my eccentric nature. …and, she is right.
The Radio Guy 2004