Operating your vintage radio



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Admiral 7T03CG
One of the tiniest of plastic radios, click/Tap to enlarge

If you choose to play your vintage radio, please read this article.

I would strongly recommend that you not play your radio for hours on end like you would a modern solid state radio. Doing so will very likely result in cabinet damage because of heat. The smaller the more likely this will happen. Playing your radio is good and if you do choose to do so, do not stuff into a tight cubby hole where air cannot circulate around it. If you enjoy playing an old radio all day long, do so with a larger one made of Bakelite (Not Catalin) and make sure it has adequate ventilation to dissipate the heat properly.

  On many of the early sets you may hear a slight hum even though the set was restored electronically, this may be normal as the circuits in some sets to filter out the hum were not very efficient and some speakers were more efficient in reproducing the hum than others.

When appliances cycle on or off or light switches are flipped, you may hear noise or static. The same conditions could also cause the volume level to change or you may hear more noise or static. This too is normal and will vary depending on your reception area and antenna. Nearly all radios made up to 1939 (and some after) required an external antenna and will perform very poorly without one. Computers and TV sets often wreak havoc with AM radios due to the RF interference they generate.

Keep in mind that during the heyday of tube type radios & television, there was an army of radio repairmen out there with a radio (and later, radio/TV) shop  on almost every corner. There was a reason for so many of these shops (all but gone now). Tube equipment required a lot of maintenance. Tubes wear out and components can fail. Unlike modern solid state equipment, expect to have some repair service if you play your radio.

  A NOTE CONCERNING SAFETY! none power transformer radios can be a SHOCK HAZARD and even be lethal. Take care in operating such radio Some that were made in metal cabinets, can be DEADLY if the AC line is at case or chassis potential. When I restore these sets I install a "Polarized" line cord to help prevent the shock hazard. Under no circumstances should a polarized plug be defeated. As mentioned above, many early sets require an external antenna for operation, NEVER ATTEMPT TO GROUND ANY RADIO MADE FOR AC/DC OPERATION or allow your antenna to come in contact with any metal portion of the radio such as the chassis or screws that may be connected to the chassis. The antenna connection is usually a  wire coming from the inside of the radio and is always isolated from the chassis to prevent a shock hazard. A radio with a power transformer is isolated from the chassis and should not be subject to a shock hazard under normal conditions.

Very early radios (1920s - mid '30s) did not have AVC (automatic volume control). Radios without AVC required constant re-adjusting of the volume control. Weak stations needed to have the volume level set high, strong station required  a lower setting. All early sets (before built-in loop antennas) required a "Long Wire" antenna for best reception of distant stations. The long wire antenna introduced another problem for these early radios as strong local stations would "boom out" with very high volume, sometimes uncontrollable with the volume control. This is normal with a good working radio. The only solution is to shorten the antenna or reduce its effectiveness. Some early radios had a "local-distant" switch which did just that. On the earliest radios the switch did nothing more than short the antenna to ground. Later radios had a more sophisticated method of signal reduction.

my companion article: Operating your small AC/DC vintage radio

more info:

© C.E. Clutter


Member of:
Northwest Vintage Radio Society

Member of:
Antique Wireless Association