Yesterday Radio, From Yesterday Back to Spark Gap and Crystal Sets

This is the 3rd of three new threads I am


The other 2 are

1)  Radio/TV DXing and Propagation


2)  Your Weather, My Weather, Anybody's Weather

3)  This one,

can be anything in the past about radio communication.

It's called - Yesterday Radio From Yesterday Back to Spark

Gap and Crystal Sets. 

I started these 3 threads because, frankly - I write things

about these 3 subjects every once in a while.  And - so that I

don't interrupt other threads - there would be places for these

subjects to go.    

I thought of this yesterday when I told a story in the middle of

another thread.  I had some recollections of my (very unlikely)

days of working at The American Radio Relay League and W1AW.

There are a lot of stories from there. 

Also, I have talked about old CB sets from time to time.  I don't

use CB now (I am a ham) but I have a small collection of CB

gear that I treasure.  There is nowhere for that to go.  So

here's a thread. 

It could be about KDKA in 1922 or Conelrad or the old ham

radio 5 meter band, or TV channel 1, or the first radio transmitters

which were high speed alternators coupled to antennas - you know -

a motor turning at 10 kHz coupled to a transmitting antenna in

1905.  Or about IBOC (Bleah) or old drying out capacitors in radios

or my HQ-100A that is holding up a bed.  (Well, it would be about

the HQ-100A, not the bed.)  Or NBC Radio's Monitor.  The list goes

on and on and on. 

 I hope this is helpful. 

If these threads aren't very active, that's OK.  I will try to keep them

alive from time to time. 


Carl Blare's picture

Bruce I love your new threads (sounds like I'm complimenting you for a new suit).

I came to the site tonight wanting to talk about portable radios and look how perfect this is, you just started the three threads!

I had to write the three topics down and think for a minute so I get the right story on the right thread, and Grundig FR-200 is A RADIO OF YESTERDAY, so it goes here.

Tonight at sunset I had the Grundig FR-200 out back and set it on a table.

Turns out the radio got set in the null of KDX AM 1550 and brought in a 50kW station from Cincinnati. But WCKY is on 1530, so what was actually happening?

Well, as you know Bruce, the FR-200 drifts! It needs constant retuning!

Still, the Grundig FR-200 is the neatest radio I know of for carrying about with its leather handle. It's like Tinky Winky's purse from the Tele Tubbys.

So I went on Universal Radio's website where I recall seeing a similar style radio under the Eton name...

But I learned that the FR-200, FR-300 and FR-400, under the Grundig/Eton name, have ALL been discontinued and waving money around cannot bring them back.

Fewer and fewer analog radios are listed, and they have dainty wrist-ropes so they can dangle from your hand like a girlie accessory. No thank you.

I'm depressed now.

Carl Blare

MICRO1700's picture

wrist strap. 

So yes.  This 2 meter HT radio was a brick and the optional

huge battery pack with almost as long as the

radio.  So together they were a big long rectangle. 

The little dainty wrist strip didn't work out. 

I like my FR-200 a lot.  Mine doesn't drift on the

AM BCB.  Shortwave is another matter. 

For a local power outage, it's probably good enough. 

If you have a 50kW all service radio station not

too far away.  My FR-200 is yellow, which makes it

stand out in the inside of a pile of stuff.  I love the

way it looks, and the power crank really works. 

I wonder what you heard on 1550.  Maybe it's a

1550 that is licensed somewhere around the

Cincinatti area but is not actually there?  Then

again, maybe not.  By the way that 1530 slams

in to Hartford at night like a ton of bricks.


I wish the light on the front was an LED and not

a light bulb. 



PhilB's picture

Here is a 5-part professionally produced PBS documentary titled "Radio Collector" from 1985 that will certainly bring back memories for the old timers. Enjpy.


MICRO1700's picture

By the way - - have you even seen

" Empire of the Air" ?  I think PBS

did that one, too.  But I don't know

how to get it. 

I will probably look at your link tomorrow.

Thanks a lot



MICRO1700's picture

You really like listening to the AM BCB

band during critical hours.  You have

mentioned this many times.  I like it too.



radio8z's picture

My radio "career" started when I was about 7 years old. Our family had a combo phono and radio console and the radio included the shortwave bands. I spent more time behind the thing listening and viewing the tubes than in front where normal people (my brother) placed themselves.

I recall hearing RTTY signals which are sort of a warbling sound. My father told me that some stations are set up in the jungle and have a microphone so we could listen to the birds. I think I was much older when I discovered the truth about this hoax.

The Russian jamming stations were all over the bands and once again my father had a explanation. They were doing construction at the stations and that was the sound of the saws. Despite this I really did love my Dad.

When the radio broke we couldn't afford to have it repaired so I begged to be able to take it apart which I did. It was a great learning experience but I now regret that the radio no longer exists.

Sometime before age 11 I scored a 1936 model Crosley tombstone table model radio and this was my primary radio until late high school when I obtained a Buick car radio from a junk yard and modified it for 120 VAC operation. This radio, due to its superior sensitivity and audio power replaced the Crosley since it sounded much better playing rock and roll.

Both radios are still here in my abode and the Crosley still works. The Buick doesn't and I haven't spent the time to fix it. It is a jumble of wires inside and the insulation is brittle but it would still be nice to hear it again.

My broadcasting started in around 1957 when a neighbor gave me an old phonograph with a built in one tube oscillator. This was later replaced with the KnightKit broadcaster which provided for some serious Part 15 fun.


P.S. My Icom IC2-AT still works and I still use it.

wdcx's picture

"I spent more time behind the thing listening and viewing the tubes than in front where normal people (my brother) placed themselves."

I had a Kennedy floor model with Type 80 tubes and the rest. I made a nearly fatal mistake of connecting 2000 ohm headphones to the wrong pair on the speaker. I did not know that the time that the magnet on the speaker was the filter choke for the power supply. So when I heard this LOUD buzz, I ripped off the headphone only to get the shock of my life from the connecting wires to the headphone elements. I think I was 13 or 14 at the time.

Druid Hills Radio AM-1610- Dade City, FL. Unlicensed operation authorized by the Part 15 Department of the FCC. We do not censor free speech and hide public information.

MICRO1700's picture

Great stuff.  I have to come back later when things

are less crazy.

In the meantime:  Yeah, in my radio hobbiest life -

I didn't know for years that some old radios used

the speaker magnet for the filter choke.  Oh MAN!



MICRO1700's picture

This is for my next post here. 

My available computer time is

variable and unpredicable. 

You guys have great stories. 



MRAM's picture

Actually, there was no permanent magnet in the speaker.  Rather, the choke coil formed an electromagnet.  When the power is applied the choke (electromagnet) produced the magnetic field for the speaker.

If the speaker failed and you replaced it with a permanent magnet speaker you'd have to either replace the speaker field coil with a suitable choke or leave the old speaker field coil (choke) in the circuit.


Charter Member - Association of Low Power Broadcasters

Member Station - ALPB

PhilB's picture

Virually all of the radios made from the mid 20's, when AC powered (rather than battery powered) radios were introduced, up until WWII had the speaker field coils. There were actually two technical reasons. The old wet electrolytic capacitor technology limited the typical values of the power supply filter capacitors to the 4 to 16 uF range. The low value of the filter capacitors mandated a fairly large choke to eliminate hum. Also, the permanent magnet technology of that period precluded making speakers with permanent magnets. So, the ideal compromise was the speaker field coil. It acted as a choke to provide the necessarily large inductance for the power supply choke and provided a high magnetic field for the speaker.

It's common when restoring a radio to replace the speaker with a modern permanent magnet version. This requires substituting an appropriate resistor equal to the field coil DC resistance, and replacing the low value filter capacitors with much higher value modern electrolytics to compensate for the removal of the filter choke.

The speaker field coil is a common point of failure. They had a very large number of turns of small wire. The wire tends to break somewhere in the coil over time. If you are lucky, it breaks at the terminals and you can fix that. But, it also would break randomly somewhere inside the coil. Rewinding the coil is possible in some speakers that can be dismantled to remove the coil. Many speakers basically had the coil support framework welded onto the speaker, so it can't be removed for rewinding. Finding a working, used equivalent speaker is practically impossible, but sometimes you can get lucky.

Carl Blare's picture

I got some of my first shocks while examining old time radios, and I realized half of the reason for highly electrified speakers - I knew they were electro magnets and could be re-purposed to pick up scrap metal in a junk yard.

"Chokes" were a mysterious component that I only knew in their transformer-like versions, but I didn't know what they did nor why they later disappeared from newer circuits.

Now, at last, it has become "known knowledge."

Thank you, gentlemen.

Carl Blare

Carl Blare's picture

The original radios were built like grand musical instruments, their cabinets sufficient to produce room filling tone with low bass response.

When dance orchestras came over the network from a big city hotel I'd stand by the coal burning stove at night listening to the thump thump thump of the plucked upright-bass-fiddle. Oh it was good.

What do we have now? Deaf people playing artificial instruments at maximum volume with screamers pretending to sing, pushed on over-amplified radio stations ignored by the public on their perpetual cell-phone calls defiant against the growing brain tumors.

Good thing I'm not bitter.

Carl Blare

MRAM's picture

A short time ago I picked a Philco Model 18 from someone's trash.

After a good clean up of the cabinet three filter caps were replaced.  The radio came to life with a grand sound.

The only thing left to do is replace the rubber grommets which support the tuner caps.

It uses the field coil type speaker.



Charter Member - Association of Low Power Broadcasters

Member Station - ALPB

MICRO1700's picture

The first time I noticed good bass response was

inside my dad's 1953 oldsmobile.  We were listening

to the car radio and I don't remember the song at

all.  I just remember appreciating good bass response

for the very first time.  I must have been about 8. 

I told my dad what I heard, and he remarked that

the low frequency sound from this car radio and

speaker was very good.  We

were sitting in a parking lot waiting for someone,

I remember.  That's why there was time to sit and

really listen to the music on the radio with the

engine off.  I did hear the vibrator power supply

buzzing.  But once the volume was up I didn't

really notice it.  Good early days in my life. 

There so many remarks that I have but I

have to go. 



Carl Blare's picture

Many of us remember mysteries on the radio, made even more enjoyable by the fact that radio was and is a mystery.

Even when we understood that the voices were actors and the sound effects didn't come from real guns or horses, we still pictured a well lit studio somewhere filled with famous people.

But the heart of radio's mystery is up on a remote mountain, wind swept top of a sky-scraper or tall blinking tower standing in the night.

The real "alchemy" of radio is the transmitter/antenna/tower combination.

How many towers have been multi-purpose?

Of course many towers handle radio antennas exclusively and little else, but the Empire State Bulding is loaded with people, offices, elevators, shops, topped off by most of New York City's radio and TV transmitters.

The Eifel Tower in Paris has a fancy restaurant and high level tourist decks and is also an antenna tower.

Does the Space Needle in Seattle house antennas?

Seemingly the 630' Gateway Arch in St. Louis is not a transmitter site, but I've always imagined that the stainless steel structure IS a secret antenna sending very secret signals.

It would be hard to locate a restaurant or even a lawn chair on top of a 3-meter Part 15 tower, but imagine it.

Any other examples of multi-purpose towers?

Carl Blare

PhilB's picture

This glorious piece of radio technology was the pinnacle of balls to the wall, everything goes engineering in 1937. It has a total of 30 tubes, two fully chrome platted chassis, a 15" woofer and two 5" tweeters. The audio amplifier is 40 watts.

We have high-end audio now, the Philharmonic was high-end radio in it's time. Superheterodyne radios didn't really begin to come into wide spread production until the late 30s. The Philharmonic came out only 7 years later and still stands as one of the best home AM radios ever produce.

Look at it here for an overview:

They originally sold for $275 in 1937. Today, a fully restored Philharmonic in pristine condition is practically priceless. It gets $20k to $30k and sometimes more.

They were sold without cabinets. Wealthy purchasers would have a custom fine-furniture cabinet built. Often the buyers would just get a speaker cabinet built and place the radio chassis on top, out in the open, as a showpiece.

Carl Blare's picture

These days it's all about who gets the house and the kids.

I'll guess that back in those days it was about who took the E,H.Scott Philharmonic.

Carl Blare

radio8z's picture

In 1960 I bought a Motorola Model X15-N portable radio so I could listen to my favorite Rock and Roll station and also my Part 15 station. With this radio I performed many a range test as well as using it to DX at night.

This radio was very expensive costing around fifty 1960 dollars but it was a quality build. At 75 cents per hour at my job it took a while to save for it but it was worth it. This radio has very good sensitivity and razor sharp selectivity and could pull in many stations at night.

Alas, it stopped working years ago and was placed in storage for repair when I got around to it. Today I got around to it and it is fixed. I found a schematic and parts layout on the web and used this as a guide to troubleshoot. There were two loose solder connections, two broken wires, and four bad electrolytic capacitors. After resoldering and recapping the radio came to life. I aligned the IF which had drifted quite a bit and adjusted it to cover the X band. It was a thrill to hear it again and once again I am impressed with the sensitivity and selectivity. There are probably some portable range tests in store for my AM station since this radio runs rings around my el cheapo portable.


wdcx's picture


Druid Hills Radio AM-1610- Dade City, FL. Unlicensed operation authorized by the Part 15 Department of the FCC. We do not censor free speech and hide public information.

radio8z's picture


not the "real" X band, just up to 1700 kHz.


MICRO1700's picture

I found a picture of an X-15N

on the net.  It's a nice looking

portable.  I read it was part of

the X-15 series.  You must have

been really really happy back then.

Almost nobody had anything like that

in 1960.  (Although there were a lot

of pocket radios

around just a few years later.)

It's great you got it going again. 




MICRO1700's picture

My father graduated from college and

bought my grandmother a "HIFI."

When I was little, I remember everybody

saying, " It has good tone." It was an AM

radio/record player in a big cabinet.  I can't

remember if if sat on it's own legs or if it

was on a big table, but it was large. 

Every once in a while, my dad would replace

tubes in it for my grandmother. 

Here's my question - I think I remember my

dad saying he bought the thing for $750.

That would be in 1952 dollars.  That price

seems a little high to me.  Or maybe very

high.  (????)



radio8z's picture

Bruce, I don't know if a real "Hi Fi" set was available in 1952. Going only by memory, stereo came on the market later...maybe around 1958.

Early Hi-Fi consoles usually had a record turntable, AM radio and later stereo phono and FM (around 1960). The cabinets were usually real furniture made of high quality wood and finished well. This would boost the cost.

$750 in 1952 seems a bit high but not unrealistic. The cost of my first component set collected from 1962 to 1964 was:

Scott LK-48 amplifier kit $150
2 KLH Bookshelf speakers $250
AR turntable $110
EICO mono FM tuner $40

So, I had invested about $550 in my set and it did not come in a cabinet.

Regarding the Motorola radio, yes, I was thrilled to have it. I had previously built a 2 transistor KnightKit AM portable and it was miserable. I recall shopping at a large department store (Rike's) in Dayton, Oh where I found this. It was the smallest radio they had and it sounded better than the others. Price with optional leather case and earphone was $50. I had a job at a bike shop where I worked 12 hours scheduled when the shop was open and off hours at the shop doing bike repairs, sweeping, washing windows, painting oil tanks, stocking, inventory, and other odd jobs for extra pay. I was able to save $50 in about three weeks.

This was a great job for me since I developed mechanical skills, customer service skills, and picked up quite a lot about the business aspect of it. The owner was very good to me and I worked there from age 13 to age 17 and earned enough to buy equipment, parts, supplies, dating, and other high school kid expenses. Didn't have a car so saving was not that hard. When I graduated, I had enough put away to pay my first year's tuition at college. I wish all kids today had this opportunity.


Carl Blare's picture

As I recall it, the introduction of High Fidelity, called "Hi Fi," happened just about the time LP (long-playing) records were introduced.

LPs had the advantage of containing whole symphonies, which I think was the basis for choosing a speed that contained entire classic works, which tended to be about 40-minutes.

But the truth is, great monaural sound quality was already happening during the 78-rpm era, because radio broadcasting had lead to the development of exceptional sound quality with the ribbon and condenser mics...

In fact at 78-rpm quality was raised by means of the insreased record speed.

But good engineers kept adding bits of quality until ultra-fidelity became possible at the slow speed of 33 1/3-rpm.

About 1959 stereophonic LP records were introduced, and around the same time stereo FM happened.

Two ears? Two channels? It was the future.

Carl Blare

PhilB's picture

The golden age of hi-fi and hi-fi stereo has passed. Back in the day, we judged hi-fi by how close it sounded to live performances. The typical "hi-fi stereo system" has disappeared and has been supplanted by the "home theater system". We no longer judge the sound by its resemblance to a live performance, but instead by its magnitude of artificially high, floor shaking sub-woofer bass, exaggerated highs that make a person's breath louder than their vocal cords, and multichannel surround sound.

Even the stratospheric realm of "high-end audio" is suffering a market slump because the ultra-wealthy can no longer impress their friends and acquaintances with fidelity alone.

Hi-fi seems to be headed toward history, and we thought old AM radios were history!

MICRO1700's picture

These are wonderful stories.  There are

so many things I want to say, and I

eventually will. 

I'll be back.



Carl Blare's picture

Bruce, I saw your posting on the Artisan thread, and I do have vintage radios to hear stuff on, let's start with the biggest one:

Zenith Transoceanic Model No. 7000Y

This, I think, is the second transistorized model of the Transoceanic ever released. The AM dial does not include the AM extended band, but the shortwave section starts at the top of the AM band, so that takes care of that.

For having many SW bands, it cannot pick up 13.560 MHz, too bad.

Stand by for other old radios, some of which need help.

Carl Blare

MICRO1700's picture

I have a friend in town - I believe

he has the same Transoceanic that

you have.  What a nice radio.  Actually,

much better than "just nice."

As of today, Oct. 6, 2014, my life here

is sort of like - - well - there's more "goofyness"

today than there was yesterday. 

I want to talk a lot more about these old radios,

and I love the stories you guys have had. 

I will have more stories about old radios, too.

I'm sitting in the office on break, typing this. 

My phone is on the desk, softly playing a

"Blare On Air Lite."  More to say about the

usefulness of your "BOAL' shows on another



P.S.  I wish I could have gotten that "Viscount"

1960s "transistor" radio working.  As mentioned

in the other thread about listening to Artisan Radio -

I had piped the Artisan Radio audio through my AMT-3000.

It was then coming out of a 1960s pocket radio.  The front

was labeled - 14 transistor HIFI Deluxe.  I had mentioned

that the 14 transistor claim was almost certainly bogus. 

(And it sure wasn't HIFI!)

This radio was/is from my collection.  I tried to get another

1960s pocket radio working.  It was the one with the "Viscount"

brand name.  It didn't work.  I think a wire was pulled off the

circuit board.  So Artisan went through the first mentioned

1960s "pocket" radio until about 2:30 AM.  At that point,

I turned off everything and went to sleep.


MICRO1700's picture

talk about Timtron and RNYI yet.

But I will here.

Along with some many other things

I want to say.