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Widget Of The Week

Academy Y-WT 15 Walkie Talkies, 1980?

For anyone growing up in the sixties and seventies the must-have tech gadget was a pocket transistor radio – things were a lot simpler back then... And if you were a boy you’d probably hanker after a pair of portable hand-held two-way radio transceivers, aka Walkie Talkies. They were cheap and plentiful and frequently linked with popular cartoon characters and TV shows. It didn’t matter that most models had a range of just a few metres and generally fell apart after a few weeks of use. They were toys, but the ability to hold a private conversation with a nearby friend was exciting, rebellious even. It probably sounds a bit sad now, but you had to be there to appreciate that this was as good as personal communications got for pre-teens in those far off days, before the Internet and mobile phones… 

 

Over the years interest in walkie-talkies waxed and waned. The Citizen’s Band craze in the late 1970s produced a sharp upturn. Illegal and surprisingly powerful CB radios, imported from the US and the continent, working on frequencies around 27MHz on the Short Wave band, became a popular novelty. However, there were legitimate concerns over interference and in 1981, in a half-arsed attempt to stamp it out, the Government of the day banned American ‘rigs’ and legalised a weedy and guaranteed fun-free FM system (also operating on 27MHz). But by then the genie was out of the bottle and wireless gadgets were everywhere, from baby alarms and radio-controlled toys and model aircraft, to cordless telephones and yes, even more cheap walkie-talkies.

 

Most of those new generation devices operated on a frequency of 49MHz, in the VHF band, which at the time was still being used by 405-line TV. Once again the UK Government’s telecommunications regulators were late playing catch-up with the technology. Eventually it produced vast swathes of legislation, setting out who and what was allowed to use the hallowed airwaves. Needless to say it resulted in much confusion and countless grey areas, and in the midst of it these Academy Y-WT 15 walkie-talkies -- and many like them -- started appearing in the shops. Thanks to multiple changes in UK and EU legislation -- that may or may not be relevant -- it’s still difficult to say if they’re legal or not. 

 

Either way, with an RF output of only 10 milliwatts or so they wouldn’t have been very controversial or problematic in terms of interference. However, these particular walkie-talkies, whilst still effectively toys, were clearly designed to look a little more grown up. That includes noticeably superior build quality and the styling, which closely resembles professional two-way radios. It continues inside the case, starting with a separate microphone and loudspeaker (on most walkie talkies the speaker doubles up as a mike, which doesn’t do much for sound quality). Instead of a simple and noisy 2 or 3 transistor regenerative AM receiver and crudely designed transmitter this one has a sensitive FM superhetrodyne tuner and a more refined transmitter, together using half a dozen transistors and a mystery microchip. There’s a proper ‘call’ facility too, that doesn’t pretend to have anything to do with the Morse Code, an earphone socket, a tough 8-section telescopic antenna and it came with a wrist lanyard and well made leather cases   

 

It is a fixed, single-channel, half-duplex design (send and receive but only one person speaking at a time) so there is a minimum of controls. The push-to-talk (PTT) button is on the left side and above that is a rotary on/off volume thumbwheel. A single red LED on the front panel shows transmit function and battery level, and the ‘call’ button is mounted on the top of the case, along with the earphone socket.

 

Power is supplied by one 9-volt PP3 type battery, which fits, into a compartment on the underside of the case.

 

This pair came from ebay and, as is often the case, seems to have slipped under the normally eagle-eyed vintage tech collector’s radar. There were no other bidders and it was mine for the opening bid of £5.50. To put that into perspective it was less than half what similar models currently (early 2021) sell for, given that they were listed as being in good cosmetic condition and in working order. They also came with a set of new batteries, which had to be worth a quid or two. The description was accurate, though the ‘call’ buttons on both handsets were on their last legs and needed replacing. Luckily they are standard 6mm micro ‘momentary’ tactile switches, that I had to hand, but even if I’d had to buy them they would only have cost a pound or so. Both hansets needed a good clean up, inside and out but, otherwise they were good to go and a brief test showed speech quality to be reasonably good and the range upwards of 100 metres in the open.

 

What Happened To It?

Walkie-talkies have come a very long way since the very first ones appeared in the mid 1930s. Until the late 50s their use was largely confined to military, law enforcement and industrial roles, then something remarkable happened. Almost overnight the transistor transformed the technology, from bulky metal boxes full of tiny valves -- something that only governments could afford -- into a cheap and cheerful mass-market product.

 

From the very beginning, in the UK at least, the public was banned from using any sort of radio transmitter without a licence. Bizarrely, until comparatively recently walkie talkies could be bought and sold quite legally, you just weren’t allowed to use them. This didn’t stop them selling in huge numbers, but their transient appeal, poor quality construction and young, heavy handed users, meant that relatively few escaped the rubbish bin. Character themed, TV show and movie linked models from the 1960s have always been popular, with prices to match, especially if they’re in good condition and come with the original packaging. Later, plain looking models like the Academy Y-WT 15 don’t have anything like the same appeal, nevertheless they have a following and prices are unlikely ever to fall as they get older and tidy working examples become harder to find.


DUSTY DATA

First Seen:                   1980

Original Price:             £10.00?

Value Today:               £20.00 (0221)

Features:                     Analogue FM VHF transceiver, half-duplex operation, single channel crystal controlled (49.831 Mhz), 6 transistor, 1 microchip,  superhetrodyne receiver, 10mW RF output, call function,  8 section telescopic antenna (1 metre fully extended), earphone socket (3.5mm jack), LED PTT/Call indicator, electret microphone, 30mm ohm speaker, rotary on/off volume control, lanyard, leather carry case  

Power req.                       9 volt PP3 battery

Dimensions:                     165 x 52 x 28mm

Weight:                            150g

Made (assembled) in:        China

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest)       6



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