Affordable Listening

Just how affordable were radios in the old days?

Today we take the all pervasive medium of radio for granted.

And in this day of supercheap componentry and low cost manufacturing techniques we expect radio to be one of the most affordable forms of media around.

But what did a radio cost in real terms back when the technology was new?

The Silvertone 9000 when first manufactured was available in either brown or white bakelite, the brown model had an original purchase price of $15.95 and the white of $16.95.

Measured in comparison to an average weekly shopping list or as a fraction of the average unskilled wage, $15.95 in 1949 dollars is roughly equivalent to between US $208 and US $221 in today's terms. So you can see how owning a radio even in 1949 was a pretty expensive exercise.

Of course all this is nothing compared to the earliest days of radio.

In the 1920's when the technology was really in its infancy a complete radio could cost you (in today's terms) between $1600 and $6000.

You would almost have needed to be the Bill Gates of the day to afford one.

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ill titleSilvertone 9000

Midget Madness.

ill_1I have been on a bit of an eBay spree the last month or so. eBay U.S.A. that is. It seems that prices for Australian radios have gone through the roof lately putting almost all of the decent ones right out of my price bracket.

So having decided to save my Aussie purchases for the auctions at our regular HWS meetings I looked to the US eBay site to see what I could find.

It seems that the vast number of sets produced in the US means that there is more product and less competition, so taking my usual tack of picking ones that might need a little work has yielded some really nice wins for very few dollars.

The first one to arrive was this Silvertone 9000, circa 1949, which was the store brand for the Sears & Roebuck Co. Dept. Store Chain, the other big chain of Montgomery Ward also had their own store brand of "Airline".

Silvertone 9000

The 9000 is a "Midget" Radio. A no-frills budget set measuring only 22 cms or 8 and a half inches wide... and until I acquired my second Airline, a 74BR-1502B, it was the smallest valve radio I had ever seen. It has only 2 knobs, an on/off volume control and a dial that is fixed right on to the shaft of the tuning condenser. It doesn't even have a dial light.

A popular (read commonplace) set manufactured at a time when the industry was transitioning from the octal style valves to the smaller 9 pin miniatures. For this reason the set uses the 50L6, 35Z5 and 12SQ7 of the traditional All American 5 lineup and the newer 12BE6 and 12BA6 from the later AA5 design. For a complete rundown of all the AA5 variants take a look at this table on the Radiophile site.

By the end of WWII most small American radios from this era came with internal loop antennas. Where I live we often get electrical interference from power lines and street lights just outside our house. I have found radios with internal loop antennas to be far better at filtering out external RF noise than ones with an ordinary "long wire" antenna.

This one was advertised as "working" and it turned out that a previous owner had done a complete restoration job on it. And done it well I might add. The only blemish (at least the only ADVERTISED blemish) was the chip out of the top left corner at the back.I also found a crack along the bottom edge of both sides which I glued up immediately, but these were pretty tight and probaby would have gone unnoticed by the seller.

In real life the chip seems even smaller than it looks in the photo.

Chip In Back

I wasn't really worried about the chip because I got this radio with the intention of trying out some restoration techniques I had been reading about that use aryldite or two part acrylic mixes along with some appropriate colouring agents to replace missing chunks in the bakelite cabinet. Once I've had a go I'll update this page with the results.

So here it is. A nice, neat, fully functional vintage radio from 1949. Nobody else wanted it because of that one small chip (soon to be fixed) in the back. Won on eBay for the princely sum of US $4.99. Yep, that was the starting price and I was the only bidder.

TAKE THAT you clowns who pay $400 for a plain brown Kriesler 11-20!

Silvertone 9000

Valve Lineup: 50L6 GT Output, 35Z5 GT Rectifier, 12SQ7 Detector, 12BE6 Mixer/Osc, 12BA6 I.F. Amp