Monday, July 21, 2014

Richardson "5" Update

Thanks to members of the excellent Antique Radio Forums and to a Mr Richardson (No relation, I think) I have found out more about the history of this receiver. It turns out that the set had been restored in the past from fairly sad shape after being purchased at an AWA swap meet in New York.

Underneath the top desk of the radio is the text "Oct.17.1996 Billy Richardson" which confirmed that the radio had originally passed though his hands while being brought back to life.

However I'll let Mr Billy Richardson tell the story in his own words:

I'm guilty of owning the Richardson "5", guys. It was in poor condition when I bought it in an AWA swap meet in New York way back there years ago. I restored it to the best of my ability to its original condition a few years later. It was not a restoration that had anything special going for it, so it was never shown in any of the contests around the country. It was working OK when I finished it, but I can understand why it doesn't work now.

To the best of my recollection, Richardson radios were first advertised as a superheterodyne kit. Their main feature was "self evident wiring", or something like that. Naturally. they didn't get away with selling a superheterodyne kit and the next and only ad I saw after that was a small one for the Richardson "5". It used the same type of wiring.

Here again I speak from a poor memory, but the wiring for this set is one long piece of rubber coated flexible wire. Along its entire length it has lugs that simply pierce the rubber cover to make an electrical contact. Not a good thing, because only one or two strands of wire may be making contact and a wee bit of oxidation is all it would take to break the connection. This was the case with the original wire, which was also hard and brittle. I replaced it with NOS flexible wire that looked exactly the same. The finished job is an ugly sight, just like the original. All the lugs are spaced an equal distant along the wire, regardless of how far it has to go to the next connection and most of the wire is too long for those connections. In other words, it's a jumbled up mess of wire and not something to be proud of.

I recognized the photo of this set immediately as being mine because of the label under the lid. There was enough of the original left to make a good copy and I thought the reproduction turned out real well.

Billy Richardson

Alan Douglas of the Antique Radio Forums found a clipping from Radio Retailer & Jobber Oct.1925 which told of Mr Richardson's exit from the Richardson Radio Corporation. Given the very short period where any advertisements were made it seems like this corporation didn't last very long at all, perhaps only a year or two at most. In the Radio News of 1925 the January issue has quite a large advertisement while the December issue has only the smallest note possible ... perhaps a sign that things were not going particularly well.

The only additional information I could find regarding either the Richardson Radio Corporation or Mr Richardson himself come from the clipping of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, August 1936.

Unfortunately it concerns what must have been his early death and does not specify the cause which would have been appropriate at the time.

DAVID WELLES RICHARDSON '22
The Class records with deep sorrow the death of our classmate, David W. Richardson, who died at his home in Mt. Kisko on July 16.
Dave spent the first two years out of college in the radio business. He helped organize WOR and was the president of the Richardson Radio, Inc.
He then entered the employ of Joseph P. Day and for five years was head of the private sales department. About a year ago he entered the brokerage business with Harris, Upham & Co. and on July 1 entered the employ of Eastman, Dillon & Co.
Dave was married in 1932 and has a son, David Welles Richardson, Jr. To his widow, his son, and his father we extend our deepest sympathy with the assurance that we will not soon forget him.
    For the Class of 1922
    William E. Stevenson, President
    G. M. L. LaBranche
    Hunt T. Dickinson
    Robert Buechner, Secretary. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Richardson "5" - 1925

I recently purchased a Richardson "5" TRF receiver and after bringing it home discovered somewhat disappointingly that, although in excellent condition appearance-wise, this radio is not going to play without a significant amount of work.

Although it was sold to me with the opinion that it did play, I think it more likely that it played at some point in the past ... although I'm willing to give the seller the benefit of the doubt.

The Richardson Radio Inc of New York seems to have appeared on the scene in 1925, lasting perhaps a year and then vanishing. The Richardson "5" features neutralization but doesn't appear to mention licencing that technology from Hazeltine so this may have had something to do with their short life.

The chief problem seems to be the wiring which is soldered in only a few places and otherwise consists of stakes or posts that have been pushed through the insulation of the wires in the same way that inexpensive garden lights are sometimes put together.

Given time, almost 90 years in this case, the poor contacts and gradually deteriorating insulation have done a good job in turning almost every connection into an intermittent connection. When I powered the radio up it was obvious that the two stages of audio amplification were working but touching any wire in the RF amplifier or detector sections just changed the quality of the noise in the headphones. I was never able to tune in a station or even see if the RF sections were working.

So, I have a choice. This radio can either be dust collector on the shelf and an example of how not to wire a set or I could re-wire it using proper soldered connectors which wouldn't be "authentic".

Not sure what to do exactly. Not that I will be diving into it any time soon, I still have the AK20 restoration to complete before I start anything else.

It didn't come with a speaker but I didn't find any evidence that Richardson Radio ever sold a loud speaker and the example at the top of the page uses a "Superspeaker Console" from the Jewett Radio & Phonograph Co.

The Richardson "5" uses a six volt "A" battery and "B" battery voltages of forty five and ninety volts. When running from the ARBE III supply I set the "A" battery voltage to five volts so there is little risk of burning the five 01A tubes too brightly.

All-in-all I would say that it is a handsome set that will look good on the shelf and may eventually be made to work again. It will be interesting to see what difference the neutralization makes to a circuit that is essentially identical to the AK20.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Atwater Kent - Model 20 : Important Documents

One of the first things I do once I have acquired a new "treasure" is to gather together all the information I can find and stick it in one place.

To this end, here is what I have found online and scans of some of the paperwork I have acquired. Most will be specific to the Model 20 but some may also cover other Atwater Kent radios:

Sadly I do not have a high resolution scan of the Model 20 log card which I believe is Form F 103, can you help?

This is Form F 194 which would suit a single dial Atwater Kent radio.

The file is scanned at 600DPI and if printed at the same resolution it should be the same size as the original.

A small amount of cleanup may be required to print correctly on your printer.

Download the PNG file HERE (49MB)
At the right is the "Radio Log Cards and Important Instructions" envelope which was used to organize all the paperwork. This would typically be held in between the two clips inside the radio.

If you are wondering what those clips were used for, now you know!

The file is scanned at 600DPI and if printed at the same resolution it should be the same size as the original.

A small amount of cleanup may be required to print correctly on your printer.

Download the PNG file HERE (57MB)

This is the back of the envelope so you can see the fold patterns and get an idea of how it was put together.

I plan to clean up these images and generate a pattern which can be printed out via a large format printer at a FedEx office or similar.

The pieces I have are too fragile to use and would crumble if handled more than a few times.

The file is scanned at 600DPI and if printed at the same resolution it should be the same size as the original.

Download the PNG file HERE (56MB)
I have several of the loud speaker instruction sheets and they seem to be generic enough to suit any of the horn type loud speakers. As far as I know they all have a similar adjustment underneath and all users should heed the warning about connecting them to the receiver with the correct polarity.

As with all the images I have used full color images so you can see the original colors and then change it to black and while to increase contrast for printing.

The file is scanned at 600DPI and if printed at the same resolution it should be the same size as the original.

Download the PNG file HERE (54MB)
This is the Atwater Kent Radio Service Manual from 1928.

This manual covers from the Model 10 to the Model 52 including accessories such as the power units and loud speakers.

This manual was a pain to find so hopefully this will help some people out and ease frustration.

Download the PDF file HERE (8MB)





This is the Atwater Kent Radio Instruction Book Vol. 2 from 1925.

The instruction book covers the Model 10 through to the Model 24 and contains important photographs showing battery cables, battery boxes and other accessories.

Download the PDF HERE (14MB)








I'm looking for high resolution scans of the following two forms: F91A and F101 as shown in the picture below. If you have scans or can point me in the right direction I would appreciate it!


Friday, June 27, 2014

Atwater Kent Model 20 "Big Box" - 1924

Ok, you got me. This isn't technically an amateur radio blog post but I would argue that radio in the early 1920's was the pursuit of the amateur, the enthusiast and the tinkerer. The amount of crossover between commercial broadcast radio and amateur radio in those days was much greater than it is now. Anyway, that's my excuse ... but why the Atwater Kent Model 20?

The model 20 or AK20
Well, to make along story short, I found an example of this Atwater Kent model sitting in a flea market stall in Hot Spings Arkansas. It looked like it had seen better days but was fully complete including the five '01A' vacuum tubes. The owner wanted $200 for the radio and explained the better part was the included horn type loud speaker which was worth $150. The horn speaker looked to be in fairly bad shape and lacking any way to test it I cheekily asked if he would take $50 for the radio ... "Sure", he said and my wallet was instantly $50 lighter.

Now I have a few vintage radios at home, perhaps a few too many depending on who you ask, and I consider them all to be interesting examples in their own right. More or less money, time and research was employed to create these radios and a great variety of circuits and designs was the result.

First impressions told me this was different, I had never owned anything like the Atwater Kent radio before. It was certainly older than my other radios but it was also constructed unlike any other radio I owned. Even under layers of grime, dust and mud dauber's nests this was obviously an article of quality. The finish on the wood cabinet and the metal front panel had seen some heat and were very badly checked in addition to the 90 or so years that had taken its toll. On the lip of the hinged top was a protected area which still showed how the finish looked originally, the dark mahogany and subtle gloss hinting that it had once looked very smart indeed.

The model 20 compact or AK20C
Once I had Internet access again I started to research the model 20 and try and learn something about it. It was at this stage, after some initial confusion, that I noticed that my model 20 was the older and perhaps slightly rarer "Big Box" version. There isn't much between them but some important differences crop up as far as restoration goes, for example:

Most references I found online suggested that the front panel of the model 20 was painted with a crinkle finish however this was only true of the later versions.

In an Atwater Kent advertising booklet, published at the time, they write, "The front of the cabinet is of metal with a deep brown mat surface which brings out the sparkling sheen of the lighter brown Bakelite dials, knobs, etc., and the nickel-plated trimmings."

I'll need to clean my Bakelite parts and possibly wax them to bring up the original "sparkling sheen" of the tuning, aerial tap and filament rheostat knobs.

A suggestion from the Antique Radio Forums that Rust-Oleum Earth Brown paint followed by black KIWI boot polish applied using 0000 steel wool sounds like it would come pretty close to producing the right finish and will probably be the path I choose when I refinish the front panel.

This AK20, from The Backwood Realm, appears
to have the original finish and looks similar to mine.
For the woodwork we're fortunate to find the description below and some more research indicates that nitro-cellulose lacquer was used at the time and is still available now.

"The cabinet of the Model 20 Receiver, pictured above, is of solid mahogany, stained a dark brown, then shellacked, triply lacquered, and rubbed to a dull, glossy, long-wearing finish."

Overall it seems very understated compared to modern electronics, even down to "The name plate, of dull bronze, is both distinctive and unobtrusive."

I hardly need to say, to most folks at least, that Ebay is a wonderful, and terrible, place to shop for antique radio parts. Wonderful because at any one time there are parts available for just about any radio you might have and terrible because you'll be jostling with tens, or hundred, or thousands of other collectors and re-sellers ... many of which have some very deep pockets indeed!

Unused Atwater Kent Radio Log card.
After vowing I would never pay Ebay prices I lasted approximately 3 minutes and then started looking on Ebay for some of the things I knew I was missing.

Before too long I had found an all-important unused "Atwater Kent Radio Log" card and envelope. I intend to scan these items in with a high resolution flat bed scanner and make copies to use and share.

Also I was able to get a set of three tuning knobs since one of the originals on my radio was shattered. Although someone had thoughtfully placed the remains inside the cabinet it was never going to piece back together well enough to look "right"

I had found the Atwater Kent Radio Instruction Book Vol. 2 online and printed out a copy but couldn't resist the temptation to pick up an original as well as another envelope along with some instruction sheets for various models of AK loud speakers.

I already own a modern ARBE-III battery eliminator so this really left only one thing to find ... a loud speaker.

Even the parts you don't see, are expensive.
I should have known that finding "the right loud speaker" for the model 20 would not be a simple task. While it will work with many different speakers including later cone style Atwater Kent units and those manufactured by other companies, the "right" speaker ... the type shown in all the period advertising literature ... is the Atwater Kent type M, L, H or R radio speaker.

All but one of those models allegedly used pot metal in their construction which eventually succumbs to the dreaded "pot metal disease" making it crack and expand. I have dealt with pot metal disease before and have no intention of doing battle with it again ... this left one model, the model M, as the one I was looking for.

Ok, so there was one model M listed on Ebay and it looked to be in good condition as well as "working" according to the seller. In fact the more I looked at it, the better it looked ... it seemed to be in very nearly new condition. After I finished drooling over the photographs I decided that I would limit myself to $100 not including the $50 shipping involved. The shipping was more than average and I hoped this would keep bids low and reduce the amount of interest. This seemed to work for a while ... the bids topped out at around $80 and I thought I might be on a winner, however this was short lived and the bids jumped to over $100 and kept on going. "Ah well", I thought, "such is life". I knew there would be an vintage and antique radio auction coming up in a month and I could probably find something there at a reasonable price.

The Atwater Kent Type M Loud Speaker.
At this point I took a shower, which is something I would recommend to anyone suffering some disappointment ... or a bath. Worst case you end up cleaner if still disappointed which is surely a small improvement.

At the same time my wife, who perpetually despairs of ever buying the right gift for a husband who is notoriously difficult to buy for, noticed my dejection and moved over to my computer which I had foolishly left logged into Ebay (I should know better, really).

A furious round of bidding started between my wife and a number of others who knew little of her determination to win this auction. I won't mention the final amount, I would like to say because, "One doesn't discuss money" but mainly because it still makes me a little woozy to think about.

If you were bidding on that same speaker then I apologize, but you never really stood a chance.

After further research I've learnt a bit more about the internals of the AK20 and uncovered the meaning behind its three tuning dials and various other controls. In order to provide more amplification, not to mention more selectivity, the AK20 uses three largely identical tuned circuits. Each tuned circuit is controlled by a separate knob on the front panel and all three must be "in agreement" before you will hear anything from the loudspeaker. Next comes the detector circuit which converts the amplitude modulated radio frequencies into audio frequencies and finally two further stages of audio amplification.

The other controls on the front panel are the aerial tuning switch which selects different taps on the first set of coils and the filament rheostats. The filament rheostats, in addition to correcting the voltage supplied by the batteries to the vacuum tube filaments, also act as the volume control by lowering the filament voltage which in turn lowers the volume from its maximum to a comfortable listening level.

Next steps will involve re-finishing the front panel and cabinet, checking tubes along with the few capacitors and resistors, then a careful power-up with high impedance headphones ... the AK loud speaker can wait until I am absolutely sure that it is working as intended!

I hope to update the blog as I progress, as well as uploading pictures and more detailed data such as circuit diagrams and service information HERE.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Where to find the $20 Software Defined Radio?

A while back I wrote a blog post about the availability of $20 software defined VHF/UHF radios in the form of re-purposed USB digital television dongles.

Now-days, with the improvements in software and documentation, the hardest part is finding the right dongle. What you order from EBay, and what you receive, can be two different things and only some of the dongles are suitable for use as VHF/UHF software defined radios.

So, I was pleased to see that at least one hobbyist electronics supplier has sought out and supplies a suitable device for SDR at a fair price :
Adafruit has available the USB dongle and "antenna" suitable for experimentation for $22.50, not far from the EBay (direct from China) price.

Click here to go directly to the product page: Software Defined Radio Receiver USB Stick - RTL2832 w/R820T

No, I didn't receive a free evaluation unit and I don't work for Adafruit ... I'm just glad to see these useful devices available from a local company with an increased chance of you "Getting what you paid for."

Adafruit also helpfully stock the adapter cables to convert the less common MCX antenna connector into the much more common BNC connector: MCX Jack to BNC RF Cable Adapter