Barry Smith – Collectors Corner December

Comments (1) Interviews

A fascination for electrical items as a boy grew into a lifetime spent in electronics for Barry, who became a collector of radios and other sound equipment.




What do you collect?

My main interest is valve radios, but I am also very interested in real Hi-Fi sound equipment. I also have on display transistor radios, telephones and paraphernalia connected with my hobby.

How long have you been collecting?

I suppose seriously from about 1990, but I’ve always picked up interesting items. At about the age of 12, I used to go to the local radio shop and purchase old trade in radios for two shillings, take them home and – yes, I admit it – wreck them for parts. I still have nightmares of the carnage.

What prompted you to start collecting, and why radios?

I was always playing about with electrical items, probably because my father was an electrician – ex Royal Air Force with radio and radar knowledge, and some seemed to rub off!

I saw many sets for sale or giveaway or found thrown away and somehow couldn’t resist. I wanted to know how they worked. But with life requirements, I had to resist until time was available to get back to serious business.

Do you remember the first piece that started your collection?

Around 1990 my father-in-law purchased a collection of ‘rubbish’ from a garage sale, and in the box was an Astor ‘Sportster’ valve portable radio made in Melbourne in the 1950s. It was in such good condition, that it was ‘too good’ to let go. I repaired it to working order and as has been noted by others, the rest is history.

Tell us about the variety of radios in your collection.

They vary from 1920s crystal sets to late 1990s microprocessor controlled portable sets, as well as radiograms and large consoles. They cover almost the whole range of styles that were typically available to the Australian market – as well as some overseas types.

Timber cabinets, bakelite cabinets, plastic cabinets, vinyl cabinets, metal cabinets and many combinations of these materials.

Simple hand span tuning dials to complicated beautifully lit tuning dials all add to a wide range of style and price variation in design.

Are all your radios in working order? What’s the upkeep like on them?

All sets on display are in working order. They are inherently very reliable, especially when compared to modern equipment. It is not uncommon for a set that has been in storage for 30 years to, after a careful check first, work immediately on switch on.

Sometimes a set on display, after a period of time of not being used, may not perform as required, but no doubt as you may have discovered yourself, that is the nature of electronic things. The most common faults are mechanical such as volume controls, switches and tuning mechanisms, due to lack of use.

Usually a clean and lube fixes them. The biggest problem is keeping them clean and dusted, as well as a suitable display method with limited space.

Where do you find all your radios, and are they hard to source?

Years ago, markets and garage sales were good sources of radios, but they became overvalued and now they are hard to come by and are usually overpriced. Also, many sets are found to have been ‘repaired’ and require ‘unrepairing’ to get them back to the state the designer intended – it can be quite a challenge. Many sets collected in the 1990s are bringing little more today than the original purchase price, even after being restored.

Having said that, we still have quite a few sets donated to our radio group for auction within the group, the proceeds going to the group or the donor. eBay can produce a few but again, price is a major factor.

What’s the oldest and/or most valuable one that you have?

I wouldn’t have a truly valuable set in monetary terms. This is usually set by fads at the time, rather than true appreciation of the model on a subjective basis.

The oldest model is a one valve set branded ‘Minifone’, made in Melbourne. I have been unable to find a true date for it, but it would be the mid 1920s.

Is your collection still growing?

Yes, I’m always on the lookout for interesting sets, though I always keep in mind to ‘rescue’ any set that may be at risk of being damaged or destroyed. I still have a few sets put aside for restoration as I can get to them. I prefer sets in ‘as is’ condition, complete with years of grime, as cleaning can unwittingly cause damage. Any condition is good, as sometimes an unviable set can provide parts for another.

Do you have one favourite piece in your collection?

That’s a real hard one. Each set has features that either aesthetically or technically stand out; an ugly set may perform really well, and a set of appealing appearance may be a poor performer. I’m very partial to a 1938 Stromberg-Carlson model 87 table radio, designed and made in Sydney. It is technically well designed with features such as two short wave bands, variable bandwidth and magic eye tuning. This is complemented by a beautiful timber veneer inlay cabinet.

What makes YOUR collection so unique?

Possibly the range from ‘modern’ equipment such as Hi-Fi gear, tape recorders, turntables etc. from the late 1950s to the ‘90s, back to the very early days of home radio reception. My interest in constructing valve Hi-Fi amplifiers biases me a lot in the direction of audio, as well as radios.

Are you a member of any collectors and/or enthusiasts clubs?

I am pleased to be a member of the Historical Radio Society of Australia – the NSW North Coast Group.

We are a group of individuals mainly concerned with the preservation of the history and artefacts of the radio revolution that began to unfold in the late 1800s and is still continuing today. We range from people like myself who spent a lifetime in electronics (and are still learning) to those with no prior knowledge from many and varied backgrounds. Some of the group travel quite some distance to attend meetings – there’s definitely some attraction!

We always welcome anybody who may be interested in this subject to come to our meetings to find what all the fuss is about.

This story was published in issue 27 Coffs Coast

One Response to Barry Smith – Collectors Corner December

  1. Brooke O'Brien says:

    Lots is involved. I’m 12 and I do girl guides and it is wonderful. There are camps and lessons and even just nights of fun!!!

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