Since I was still at school I was fascinated at how valve radios worked. When I'd look at a sold-state radio it'd just sit there playing music. But valve radios come alive when they are operating. They have a heartbeat, they have a soul. The notion that something that was old could still work well was an added bonus. In the mid 1980s the fever was just getting more chronic. I had to have a valve radio, but where could I lay my hands on one. It would be something like three years before it'd happen. In the meantime I would started reading the vintage radio articles in Electronics Australia and Silicon Chip magazines.
The articles mentioned above just made my pre-addiction worse than ever and by December, 1988 D-Day had arrived. I was in Munro's Mill Antique Centre in Tamworth, NSW and saw a Kelvinator mantel radio sitting just inside the window - no cabinet but the radio did work. It was mine for the grand sum of $3.00. That seems a princely amount these days but when all one is getting for income is the tertiary education allowance of around $34.00 a week then yep, it is hard to collect radios.
Following this day, I'd listen to that radio at night after the day's work was done. It wasn't a safe thing to do however so I felt it was then time to purchase another radio, this time one with a cabinet. I don't remember the name of the place but there was a large antique shop opposite Tamworth Railway Station and it was in there I bought a HMV 441, a large table model with five valves and a six inch speaker. It was also a goer though the timber cabinet was in need of treatment as it was in rather poor condition. This radio features several different inlaid veneers and much of this was peeling and a small portion above the loudspeaker was missing. This radio cost me $15.00. The antique shop is long gone and was replaced with a NSW Government office block. Come to think of it, Munro's Mill Antiques is also gone, replaced by a block of flats (I think).
Before putting the HMV into regular service I decided that it would be good to practice restoring radios and knowing that this model wasn't a particularly old one at the time there'd be little harm in using this set for such practice. It was stripped back, sanded, veneer repaired, given another light sand and then a couple of layers of new lacquer applied. The speaker also needed some repairs due to a few large stab wounds (made by others) and it was decided that a reconing would be necessary. So I got in some practice with that too. As things turned out I did a better job with the cabinet than the speaker. The speaker got its new cone but I failed to hold the voice coil still whilst the glue dried. Still, it was early days and one lives and learns. The radio still sounded okay but lacked a little bass due to the voice coil's cardboard former poling on the magnet.
About a year after I started life as a collector I was back in Munro's Mill buying a late 1950s HMV radiogram. Everything worked and the cabinet was in very good condition. Nothing to do here but take it home and start playing records on it - which I did until later events in life, such as a shift to Sydney to start a new job got in the road. From that point onwards I have purchased almost 300 radios, sold about 80, used around 20 for parts and wasted many hours shifting the bloody things every time I move house, which thankfully isn't very often these days. Still, despite the misery of having many optional possessions that require a great deal of care to move about, I wouldn't have it any other way.
In finishing, many will not help but notice that I failed to mention anything about restoring radios electrically before regular use. It wasn't so important back then as Australia's fleet of valve radios was much younger. These days, with tens of thousands of radios more than 50 years old, power should not be applied to any radio to see if it works. At all times a radio should be serviced by an experienced person before power is applied to it. Valve radios contain very high voltages on many of their parts and age, a lack of maintenance and a build-up of dust are a good recipe for electrical failures, some of which can start fires. I have more to say on this elsewhere on the site.