"Vintage Radios" Book Review

Vintage Radios (Collecting - Servicing - Restoring)Several visitors to this website have asked me to recommend a good book, which covers the repair and restoration of vintage radios in a manner that is suitable for those just starting out I this hobby. Until recently there has been a shortage of suitable material, but this has now changed due to the publication of Vintage Radios (Collecting - Servicing - Restoring) by Tony Thompson.

Tony has worked for many years as a radio and TV servicing engineer, and now teaches Design, Technology and Electronics. He also runs a superb website - Vintage Radio World. He is therefore well qualified to write such a book, not just in terms of his considerable experience and knowledge of the subject, but also his experience in conveying ideas and principles to others in a clear and understandable manner.

Vintage radio books do not tend to interest major book publishers in the UK (unless they contain lots of nice colour photos and virtually no real information), so Tony has decided to publish and sell the book himself under the name VRW Publications.

The book is A4 sized and spiral-bound, which allows it to stay open at a page, and even be folded right back on itself. It contains 120 pages, organised into 17 chapters plus two appendices.

Chapter 1 - How It Started: Contains a brief but concise history of valve technology and radio design.

Chapter 2 - Styling Influences: Continues from the previous chapter with a discussion about cabinet styling over the years.

Chapter 3 - Collecting Radio Sets: Discusses the ethics of restoration; what to restore and what to leave as-is. The author does not try to impose a specific view on this (although he does state his position), instead he describes the options and leave the reader to decide.

These first three chapters together serve as a good introduction to vintage radio collecting, and to the rest of the book. They contain a number of good black-and-white photographs of typical sets to illustrate the discussions.

Chapter 4 - Where and How to Obtain Sets: Discusses the various options for purchasing vintage radios, and the potential pitfalls to be aware of.

Chapter 5 - When to Buy… and When Not To: Describes the points to look for when considering the purchase of a set.

These two chapters cover just about everything you need to know about purchasing vintage radios. They are clearly based on experience (and some interesting examples are mentioned) and are worth reading before spending your money!

Chapter 6 - Cleaning and Restoring the Chassis: Covers the tools and materials needed, set disassembly, and the cleaning and restoration of the chassis and other components and fittings.

Chapter 7 - Renovating Wooden Cabinets: Describes various techniques for cleaning, repairing, restoring and refinishing wooden cabinets and cabinet components.

Chapter 8 - Renovating Bakelite Cabinets: Describes the cleaning and repair of Bakelite cabinets.

These three chapters are, I feel, the highlight of the book! The amount of detailed information here alone is sufficient to justify purchasing the book. There is a distinct lack of information on the Internet etc. about cabinet and chassis restoration, with most websites (including mine) concentrating more on the electrical aspects. These three chapters make up for this. If you need this sort of information for your restorations, buy this book!

Chapter 9 - What Valve Are: Contains a brief description of valves over the years. Discusses the various types of bases, and important aspects such as the vacuum and getter.

Chapter 10 - How Valves Work: As the title suggests! Some understanding of basic electronics is assumed.

These two chapters give as much information about the inner workings and biasing of valves as you are likely to need for most vintage radio repairs.

Chapter 11 - Basic Checking and Testing of Valve Radio Chassis: Covers the items to check and possibly replace before switching the set on for the first time.

Chapter 12 - General Testing of Chassis: Covers the test equipment needed for faultfinding, followed by basic faultfinding techniques.

Chapter 13 - Causes of Common Faults: Suggests some likely causes of common faults, such as "dead set", "lit but dead set", "distortion" etc.

Chapter 14 - Circuit Arrangements of Typical Receivers: Briefly describes the circuit arrangements of typical AM sets, complete with example circuit diagrams. VHF sets are not covered.

These four chapters give a reasonable coverage of circuit repair and faultfinding, and should be sufficient to allow beginners to put right some of the more common faults in their sets. As with the rest of the book, the emphasis is on safety and on doing the job properly. However I am disappointed that the author did not cover this subject in greater detail. On the other hand though, there is a limit to what can be covered by a single book, and the author has sensibly chosen to concentrate more on aspects that are less well covered elsewhere (such as cabinet restoration as mentioned above).

Chapter 15 - An Example Chassis Restoration: Describes a typical restoration, as carried out by the author for a customer. This chapter helps to bring together some of the information presented in earlier chapters. Again though I feel that a bit more detail would have been advantageous.

Chapter 16 - Things to Make: Gives circuit designs and assembly details for Continuity Checker, Battery Valve Radio PSU, Safety Lamp, Dummy Aerial and Signal Injector/Tracer projects. All use readily available components, with the exception of the PSU, which uses a custom-made transformer. The signal tracer/injector and power supply sections mention PCBs, but no design is given for this. They are on the author's website however.

Chapter 17 - Glossary of Vintage Radio Terms: Exactly as the title suggests! Should really be an appendix rather than a chapter.

Appendix 1 - Sources of Spares, Materials and Information: Gives contact details of a range of suppliers of components and information for vintage radio restorers. The first supplier listed is actually the author himself, but this may not be apparent unless one compares the email or website addresses with those given elsewhere. Also contains a section on relevant websites.

Appendix 2 - Things to Read: Lists current and out-of-print books that are worth looking out for, as well as relevant magazines.

The book is well written, in a clear and friendly style. It is the sort of book I found difficult to put down once I had started reading. It is well illustrated with good quality black-and-white photographs. Although in a couple of places it is not as detailed as I would have liked, the information provided is clear and accurate. The cabinet and chassis restoration sections in particular contain a great deal of valuable information, and I would recommend the book on the strength of these alone! Add the other information, and a really good read, and the book is highly recommended!

The book is priced at just £12.95 and is available directly from the author. For ordering details etc., email Tony Thompson at vwr (at) tesco.net or visit his website at http://www.vintageradioworld.co.uk. It should also be available through bookshops (probably by special order), quote ISBN 0-9538218-0-3. It is also available through Amazon.co.uk by special order. To view the book details at Amazon click here.

The book is also available on CD-ROM in HTML format for a similar price. Although the CD-ROM contains a few extras (resistor colour code, hints and tips on battery sets, an Aerodyne brochure and a collection of photographs of American sets), I personally prefer to read a paper publication rather than an electronic one.

This website, including all text and images not otherwise credited, is copyright © 1997 - 2006 Paul Stenning.
No part of this website may be reproduced in any form without prior written permission from Paul Stenning.
All details are believed to be accurate, but no liability can be accepted for any errors.
The types of equipment discussed on this website may contain high voltages and/or operate at high temperatures.
Appropriate precautions must always be taken to minimise the risk of accidents.

Last updated 14th April 2006.