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15-station Desk Intercom

Academy 'Camcorder' Radio

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Commodore PET 2001-N

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Connevans LA5 Loop Amplifier

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Coomber 2241-7 CD Cassette

Contamination Meter No.1

Cosmos Melody Organ

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C-Scope ProMet II Detector

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Monatone D 5151 AM Radio

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MPMan MP-F20 MP3 Player

Mullard OC Transistors

Murphy U602 FM Radio

Music Man Talking Radio

My Power Megaphone

Mystery Microphone

Nagra SN Tape Recorder

National Hyper BII Flashgun

 

Widget Of The Week

Radio Rentals Novelty AM Radio, 1979?

You really are showing your age if the words Radio Rentals means anything to you. For the benefit those under fifty, it was once a well respected household name and for more than 60 years the company played a leading role in supplying the British public with affordable home entertainment products. More about the glory days shortly.

 

This striking Medium Wave radio actually dates from the late seventies or early eighties; it was probably a promotional item, and for a novelty radio, quite well made. It resembles the classic ‘cathedral’ style valve wirelesses, popular between the 1930s and 50s. The originals were typically housed in wooden or Bakelite cases and stood 50cm or more high. This one is a little smaller, roughly one-third scale at 16cm tall but it’s quite convincing and probably fooled a fair few people into thinking it was proper old-tyme vintage radio. Ironically, even for the seventies or eighties it is quite old fashioned. Inside the plastic case there’s a basic Hong Kong made 6-transistor superhet receiver. The only things setting it apart from the multitude of cheap ‘trannies’ of that period is a large 90mm speaker and faux rotary tuner display on the front. Thanks to that larger than average speaker it doesn’t sound half bad, compared with the usually tinny noises coming out of most other small radios. Normally that might even make it useable as a tabletop radio. Unfortunately there are only few stations left on the medium wave band and the tuner has serious sensitivity issues. Unless you can actually see your local AM transmitter mast it is unlikely you’ll ever hear anything worth listening to… 

 

Vintage transistor radios from the late 50s to the early 80s, with a decent chance of working, have become a rare sight at the car boot sales and antique fairs I frequent, which is why this one caught my eye. After a brief haggle the stallholder agreed to part with it for £4.00, a sum I was happy to pay as for once it came with a battery and was demonstrably in good working order, very tidy on the outside and no corrosion in the battery compartment. Several decades of dust were easily removed with a light brushing inside the case and a wipe over with Mr Sheen was all that was needed to have it looking almost like new. It had obviously been well cared for and probably spent most of the last 40 or so years in the back of a drawer, in its original plain cardboard box. 

 

What Happened To It?

Radio Rentals was established in the 1930s, as the name suggests, renting out new fangled radios to a tech wary public, but the company really took off in the post war years. Eventually they became a familiar sight in almost every high street, playing a significant role in the successful UK launches of colour televisions in the late 60s and a decade later, leading the way with home video recorders. The premise was simple; new TVs and VCRs cost the thick end of £1000.00 when they first appeared. Early colour TVs were notoriously unreliable and costly to maintain. In today’s money a colour telly would have set you back the equivalent of £12,000 and £3,000 for a VHS video recorder. That was simply too much for the mass market to bear, so rather than buying them outright you rented them for a modest weekly or monthly payment. If your TV or VCR packed up, (which it definitely would…), you wouldn’t get stung for repairs and if you kept up the payments, you would be rewarded with a new model every few years. Sound familiar? That’s not unlike the way a lot of people can now afford to drive expensive new cars.    

 

The timing suggests that this little Radio Rental radio may have been part of a campaign to revive the company’s flagging fortunes. By the late seventies the cost of colour TVs and VCR was on a steep downward spiral. Electronic gadgets were also becoming more reliable and once the Japanese started making TVs, much less of a gamble when it came to reliability. All this made the rental model look increasingly unattractive, compared with an outright purchase or buying on HP and credit cards. In fact the writing was on the wall a decade or so earlier as the company was shuffled around the various divisions of the Thorn EMI empire, who took control of the company in 1968. Radio Rentals, as a brand had all but disappeared by 2000, though apparently the name still lives on in Australia.

 

Novelty radios and especially the earliest transistor models remain popular with collectors, and prices can and often do reach three figures for the rarest and most sought after examples. This one is not in that league and when one occasionally appears on ebay it typically sells for between £20 and £30, depending on condition. It is not known how many were made, though if indeed it was a promo or give-away, it could even be borderline rare, but don’t get your hopes up just yet, prices are unlikely to change very much over the next few years, but your grandchildren might thank you if you can snag a good one for a decent enough price.


Dusty Data

First Seen:                  1979?

Original Price:             £ possibly free?

Value Today:               £20.00 (0922)

Features:                     Single band (AM) 6-transistor superhet receiver, 90mm speaker, pulley driven rotary tuning dial, volume on/off & tuning rotary controls, internal ferrite antenna

Power req.                   1 x 9-volt PP3 type battery

Dimensions:                  160 x 120 x 60mm                 

Weight:                         300g

Made (assembled) in:    Hong Kong

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  8



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