I have always been a very inquisitive person. Even as a child I wanted to know what made things work. My mother claims that I once broke apart my baby rattle, because I wanted to know how it made that noise. I found myself in trouble more than once for dismantling a toy to see how it operated.
As a teen, I spent many hours after school and on weekends hanging around a family friend’s TV repair shop. I was fascinated by the inner workings of electronic items. Before long I was making repairs at the shop and going on service calls.
During those years, I never needed to actually buy a radio. People were always giving me their unwanted and inoperative electronic items. I managed to get some of them working, and others I dismantled for parts.
One day I was given two identical but non-working TV sets. It didn’t take me more than a couple of hours to find the problem, swap out the parts to bring one of them back to life.
That was a major victory. Now mom and dad could watch what they wanted, and my brother and sisters and I could watch what we wanted.
Well, mostly what I wanted, after all, it was my TV.
My teenage son Jaydon reminds me a lot of myself. He is curious about everything. While I only had the library to find answers to my questions, he has the benefit of the Internet. He spends countless hours watching YouTube videos on everything from US history, to how to get the most out of his computer and guitar. Like me, he loves to take things apart and see what makes them tick.
Recently on Ark City, Buy, Sell, Trade, I found an old Admiral tabletop radio for sale. It was a 1951 model, in beautiful condition and priced at only $10. The owner said it was not operational.
I could not resist buying it. My wife has always wanted an old vintage radio to put on the fireplace mantle. Knowing my son’s curiosity about electronic things, I thought it would make a good father and son project.
Under my guidance, he carefully removed the chassis from the case.
Then it was class time.
We went over every component, and I identified each one and explained what it did. Using the Internet, it didn’t take him long to locate a schematic diagram which serves as a road map to show how the parts are connected. We went over the diagram, and I explained the many symbols, showing him the actual part on the radio. We went over each stage, what it did, and how the different stages worked together to bring entertainment into the home.
Then it was time to get to work and find the problem.
Radios of that era typically used five vacuum tubes. The radios were inexpensive and easy to manufacture. But those tubes were connected in such a way that if one failed; it would shut down the entire unit.
For the repair shops, it was an easy fix. Pull the tubes out one by one, put them in the tube tester, and when you found one that wouldn’t light up, the problem was solved. Replace it with a new tube, collect $20, and return it to the customer who declared you a hero. The older ladies always gave me cookies.
But Jaydon and I don’t have a tube tester.
That didn’t stop us. Using the schematic diagram and my handy ohmmeter, we traced the problem to an amplifier tube with an open filament. We found a reasonably priced replacement on EBAY, and waited anxiously for it to be delivered.
The day it arrived, he met me at the door with the new tube in his hand. I had made it very clear that he was not to do anything with that radio without me being there to supervise. He couldn’t wait to find out if we had made the correct diagnosis. He hoped the new tube would bring the radio back to life.
He installed the tube, held his breath and turned the power switch. A few seconds passed, and it seemed nothing was happening. He looked at me with disappointment in his eyes, and then glanced back at the radio, where the tubes were now starting to light up.
Now he was really excited, and to tell the truth, I was too.
The radio came on and we could hear a station coming in. But we could also hear a very loud annoying hum that seemed to overpower everything else.
I could see the question marks in his eyes.
Now it was time to learn about capacitors and what they did. The large filter capacitor had shorted and was causing the problem. I took a few minutes to explain why.
Then we want back to EBAY, where we eventually found an exact replacement.
So now we are waiting on the part to arrive. This will be another good learning experience, as he will have the opportunity to learn how to solder the new part in place.
In the meantime, he has completed some additional research and informed me that we should consider replacing all of the electrolytic capacitors.
“That’s what all of the people who restore these radios say you should do,” he advised. “That’s what they all say in their videos.”
Actually, that probably is a wise idea.
These old radios are fun to tinker with and very easy to work on. We have enjoyed the project. He has learned a lot, and I have struggled to remember the things I was taught so long ago. I wish the electronic items of today were as easy to work on.
Some of these old radios are becoming collector’s items. I have seen units like ours go for up to $300. This one is in almost perfect condition and would likely bring a good price.
My wife says it is not for sale.
Once we have this one back in order, we’ll need another project. A friend of mine has a large floor model radio that probably dates back to the early 1940s. For years, it has just sat in his living room as a conversation piece. I have convinced him to let us bring it home and try to get it working.
We can’t wait to get started on it.
CourierTraveler reporter John Shelman can be contacted at (620) 442-4200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.