Vintage Radio

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I bought an old radio from the local charity shop – the man in the shop (who, incidentally, is also my neighbour) thought it might work as-is. It didn’t, thankfully, since I think a fire may have ensued if it had. Its a Philips and this website dates a more or less identical-looking model to 1958/59 (Model B3X85U).


B3M85U; Philips Mexicana S.A (ID = 1662454) Radio

Philips Mexicana S.A: B3M85U

That model (in the photo above) was made and sold in Mexico, though others I found were made in Philips’s homeland, Holland. The one I have says it was made in New Zealand and is branded Philips on the front but Fleetwood on the back and inside. A bit of Googling indicated that (i) Philips had a factory in Wellington and (ii) the plant made TVs there that were branded Fleetwood. Presumably the same applies for their earlier radios?

New Zealand made (Philips) Fleetwood television from the 1960s

New Zealand Call Signs

Further confirming the radio’s New Zealand roots is the radio dial showing the AM stations with New Zealand call-signs. This is kind of interesting (I guess!) though somewhat short-sighted when radio stations change their names. The only reason I realised this were that there are commercial stations still operating in NZ called ZM and ZB. According to Wikipedia, the first number indicated region (e.g. 1 – north of Taupo), the first letter was whether it was non-commercial (e.g. Z – commercial station) and the last letter was sometimes the first letter of the town, sometimes assigned in order.

Radio dial showing New Zealand call signs

Radio dial showing New Zealand call signs

History aside, I had aspirations to get the radio going again largely unaltered, but as soon I took the back off I was overwhelmed. It was all vacuum tubes and old school paper resistors and capacitors. There were ominous black char marks here and there too  – hence the thankfulness about the thing not working in its original state. To be honest a radio with no FM frequencies would not be much use anyway.

After a month or two of procrastination, I decided to ‘fake it’ and stick the base components from a cheap modern transistor radio in the old Bakelite case, maintaining (as much as I could) the original functionality of the mechanical dials, push-buttons etc., and keep the (non-functioning) vacuum tubes for posterity and aesthetics.

Vacuum Tubes vs. Transistors

A bit of history – transistor radios usurped vacuum tube radios in the 1950s. Tubes were non-compact and needed a large power supply, the contrary to transistors. According to Wikipedia, the first consumer transistor radios started arriving in the mid-1950s ( in the US). A fledgling Japanese company, the Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation, bought rights to Texas Instrument’s transistor patents and in 1954 produced Japan’s first consumer transistor radio. In 1957 the same company, now renamed Sony, bought out the TR-63 in the USA and sold over 100000 units – a hit. The rest is history I suppose. By 1959, 6 million transistor radios existed in the USA – vacuum tube radios were a pre-war relic, yet the Philips is dated 1958/1959, so it really must have been this dying technology’s swansong.

Product Design TR-63 Posketable Radio

Sony TR-63 Pocketable Radio

The Philips radio had 6 AM bands (how many radio stations were there!) plus a ‘gram’ input to plug in a record player and use the system as an amplifier. Weirdly it also had a broadcast feature and it has New Zealand post office warning on the back pertaining to the legality of broadcasting radio. These various functions were controlled by the nice mechanical push buttons on the front of the radio.

Mechanical push button unit from front of radio. This have a satisfying clunk to them.

Mechanical push button unit from front of radio. This have a satisfying clunk to them.

I decided that I’d replace the wired record player input with a wireless Bluetooth connection so you can play tunes off your phone. This (of course) made the job 10 times harder.

The Parts

  • The Philips radio with all old wiring stripped out (but cool looking tubes and stuff kept in)
Old electronics inside the radio - this all got stripped out.

Old electronics inside the radio – this all got stripped out.

  • TEAC FM portable radio – 20 bucks. Actually ended up getting two cos I drilled a hole though a capacitor on the first – but this write-off served as useful spare parts bin. I chose this model since it was cheap, it had a dial tuner and volume knob (rather than digital) and also it has an aux-in socket (for my Bluetooth-ness). The Tokyo Electro-Acoustic Company (TEAC – I think they should use long-form, way cooler.) actually came into being two years prior to the Philips being made, no doubt on the back of Sony’s success with transistor radios(Sony then weirdly called TTEC as opposed to TEAC).

TEAC FM/AM portable radio

  • Logitech Bluetooth dongle thing. This became a redundant bit of technology in our house when the Google Chromecast arrived so I am  glad I found something useful for it.

  • New bulbs to replace two that light up the display on the radio (seems this was a selling point!)
  • A couple of spare LEDs for the Bluetooth functionality – blue ones!

The Process

The radio frequency control on the right (Lego)

The radio frequency control on the right (Lego) riding on the back of the old dial system

  1. Stripped out all the old bits and bobs from the Philips, no doubt sucking in a couple of it litres of lead (plus whatever else) fumes in the process.
  2. Worked out the wiring on the TEAC:
    • Botched the volume knob on the TEAC into the metal volume dial of the Philips (with a Dremel mini-grinder and superglue).
    • Connected power on/off from TEAC (previously on volume knob) to power push switch on Philips
    • Really botched the frequency dial – wanted to keep the old mechanism (with its springs and string and such). Ended up using Technic Lego. I know, I know: Super glue and Lego is sacrilege but I would hope this falls outside that axiom.
  3. Worked out the Bluetooth dongle – installed a couple of blue LEDs to indicate when it was on and connected and a momentary button on back for Bluetooth device connection.
  4. Re-sprayed the case reveal with grey enamel and the steel speaker grille with ‘New Zealand’ beige.
  5. Polished up Bakelite case using Brasso, and care.
  6. Installed all the new electronics in the void left by the removal of the old redundant stuff.

The new electronics installed. Note installed in bottom part so tubes and stuff still visible on top.

The End Result

The final product looks pretty good; works well too . The frequencies on the AM front provide no help as to what you are tuning in to, of course, since the new radio is FM so you need to just fish around for your station. The Bluetooth works well. Good result!

Philips radio rejuvenated

Philips radio rejuvenated