Beginnings of radio
Crystal radio receiver sets were developed in the early 20th century and were used to receive Morse code. World War I gave a boost to developing telecommunications. Then as electronics evolved and voice signals were sent by radio broadcast, radios took off between the 1920s and 1940s and evolved into today's radio broadcasting industry.
In America, radio manufacturers set up nationwide. Many fell by the wayside as the years progressed so the sets they manufactured are rare and sought after by serious collectors.
“RCA had a real stranglehold on patents and nothing much moved with the development of valves and other parts unless RCA had a finger in the pie,” Graham says. “It was difficult for a lot of manufacturers to break away from that, and they were forced to use RCA tubes in their radios.”
The first radios were battery-operated. “It was probably the school kids’ job early in the morning to take the battery to the local garage to have it charged so that dad could listen to the radio at night, and God help them if they forgot to pick the battery up on their way home from school,” says Graham. In New Zealand during the Great Depression of the 1930s the government put an import embargo on built-up radios.
“The New Zealand radio distributors of the day were able to import the basic guts of the radio but they couldn’t import the cabinets so they were made here. There were some beautiful cabinets produced. The skills of those cabinet makers were superb — everything was done by hand, they didn’t have fancy machinery, maybe a few power tools, certainly not spindle molders, and any shaping of moldings would have been done with hand planes.”
Radios were manufactured in Hastings, Wellington, Auckland, and even in Whanganui where, Graham discovered by chance, Gordon radio manufacturers made the chassis of only 38 sets. He knows of only two examples — he has one and the other is in Palmerston North. Graham says “An uncle saw it sitting on a shelf and his first words were, “Where the devil did you get that from? Because when I did my apprenticeship as a radio serviceman I built those sets. I will have worked on that set because we only made 38 of them!”
Vintage record players, also part of Graham’s collection, developed quickly. He has a couple of early Edisons (built prior to 1920) that play cartridges, which look a bit like a toilet roll.
“The problem with them is that they are all made out of wax and they get very crumbly. Sometimes they can fall apart in your hand.”