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Widget Of The Week

Alpha-Tek AM/FM Pocket Radio, 1985

Once again I have to thank my elder brother Pete for donating this relic of eighties mobile entertainment to the dustygizmos collection. Outwardly it’s a fairly unremarkable looking pocket AM/FM radio, and whilst it’s not going to excite most vintage tech fans, it does have one or two interesting features. The radio part is fairly typical of the era; it’s a Hong-Kong made 9-transistor design, featuring a tightly packed, hand-assembled circuit board with healthy dollops of wax around the RF section. This was meant to immobilise sensitive components, liable to move or vibrate and upset the tuning. The downside is that in hot weather the wax can melt and find its way into places it shouldn’t go; more on that in a moment… There’s an eye-catching tuning scale on the front panel with a red band that appears to slide up and down a narrow window but it’s only when you take it apart that you see how ingeniously simple it is – see the photo further down the page. The volume on/off switch is also a little unusual, with on/off mode and volume setting showing through a small round window.

 

Another notable feature is a yellow light emitting diode (LED) power indicator. It wouldn’t rate any sort of mention nowadays but in the mid to early 80s it probably seemed quite exotic, especially on an inexpensive battery-powered radio; they even went to the trouble of giving it a fancy shaped escutcheon and labelling it on the front panel. Red LEDs had been around for several decades by the time this radio was made but other colours, including yellow, were not developed until the early 1970s and it took several years before they were cheap enough to use in domestic products. As a matter of interest it was almost 20 years before the price of blue LEDs, which fappeared in the late 70s, fell to the point when they could be used commercially. White LEDs are an even more recent development, dating back to 1995. Whilst almost certainly not a first, this little radio may well have been one of the earliest outings for yellow LEDs.

 

My brother wasn’t certain when and where he brought it but a date of 1985 is probably quite close. The clues are the (then) trendy sliver-grey cosmetics, components on the circuit board, the absence of any microchips, and the fact that it has a 2.5mm earphone jack socket. These were more or less obsolete by the late 70s, replaced by the ubiquitous 3.5mm minijack, thanks largely to the runaway success of the cassette Walkman.

 

It was in very good shape but at some point in the past there had been a leakage incident in the battery compartment. Fortunately it hadn’t done any serious damage; there was no corrosion and all it needed was a strip-down of the contacts and a quick scrub with a rotary wire bush on my Dremel tool. Before reassembly the volume control and band switch were treated to a few squirts of contact cleaner and it was ready to be powered up. The first attempt resulted in complete silence but I had noticed some waxy deposits around the on/off switch that had leached from the area around the ferrite aerial rod. Once they were removed it came back to life. Tuner sensitivity and selectivity turned out to be quite good on both wave bands and there is plenty of volume but actual sound quality, through the small built-in speaker, is pretty much as you would expect.

 

What Happened To It?

The company responsible for making this little radio appears to have been fairly prolific throughout the 80s and 90s but after that it gets harder to track its progress. Several firms based in Hong Kong are  now using the Alpha-Tek name but none of them seem to have any obvious connections with this one. During its busy period they churned out a range of audio products but references to this particular model are almost non-existent. What is apparent, though, is the brand’s marketing and distribution efforts, which seem to have been concentrated in Italy. Virtually all of the Alpha-Tek devices on the market at the time of writing are to be found on ebay.it. Valuation is really tricky. It may be quite rare but I seriously doubt that there are any specialised collectors out there desperately looking for one. The yellow LED indicator is mildly interesting but it does not deserve to be classed as a major technological breakthrough. One day, who knows? It might just be something future historians will pick up on it, in which case my great, great grandchildren may thank me, but for the moment my arguably optimistic valuation of around a fiver is about as good as it gets. 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                1985

Original Price         £15?

Value Today           £5 (0516)

Features                 Dual band (AM/FM), 9 transistor superhetrodyne tuner, 6-section 480mm telescopic antenna, LED power/tuning indicator, 55mm speaker, 2.5mm earphone jack 

Power req.                     2 x 1.5 volt AA cells

Dimensions:                   150 x 68 x 35mm

Weight:                          240g

Made (assembled) in:     Hong Kong

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):   8


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