Early days, with valves

Picture of various radio valves

Back in the olden days, the radio was called the wireless, a term that's much more general these days with wireless keyboards, alarms, door-openers and other things. These consisted of a detection-stage (a diode) and one or more thermionic valves. Thermionic valves, (or just valves) were glass tubes with several electrodes inside that served different purposes, including amplification, increased reception distance and finer tuning.

Old Radio

Picture of an old mantel radio

The radio, or wireless, as we called it then, was usually a mantel-set like the one pictured at left, or a console which was housed in a wooden cabinet and stood on the floor.
It usually had only two controls - the volume/on-off knob, and the station tuner. Ours only received one station, the BBC, but that was all my Dad wanted.
So the tuner was really only used to fine tune this station, to get rid of the whistle or "heterodyne" tone.

Picture of a console radio with gramophone The console model, which of course was much larger and more expensive, had other controls for tone and for gramophone operation, when a gramophone was fitted. When this was the case, it was referred to as a radiogram.
The gramophone was usually mounted in the same cabinet, and played 12 inch or 10 inch vinyl disk records. Some had a small storage area for the records and spare needles, and a cleaning brush and cloth.

Crystal sets

Picture of a crystal radio circuit diagram

Many amateur radio buffs back then started their electronic life by building a crystal radio set, which was simply the detection stage of a radio, with no amplification. These had 5 main components: a coil of copper wire wound around a cardboard tube (L1); a tuning-condenser, or variable-capacitor (VC1); a germanium crystal rectifier, or germanium diode (D1); a condenser, or capacitor (C1); and a pair of headphones. As experience was gained, some added valves to their circuit.

Amateur radio

There were many amateur radio stations around the world, featuring mostly conversations between their operators. These were of necessity in homes or other buildings, and used only one frequency, for which they paid a licence fee.
Now, many of these are built into cars, and have world-wide transmission and reception on many different bands, with music, news and other content.


Picture of a transistor

Later, an amazing little invention called a transistor replaced the valves. These were much smaller (about 6mm wide), used less power, had greater amplification, and were cheaper. They also produced less heat so required less cooling.


Picture of a semiconductor chip that can store 128 gigabytes of information

Nowadays, discrete transistors have mostly been replaced with "solid state" circuits on chips. These often hold many thousands, millions, or even billions of transistors built into a small wafer, usually made of silicon.
The picture at left shows a new chip that can store 128 billion (128,000,000,000) pieces of data. If this had been built in the 'fifties it would have needed a large room to accomodate it, a huge power supply and very efficient cooling.


These days, most radio listening is done in the car or while out relaxing at the beach or elsewhere. The advent of television has all but sounded the death-knoll for home listening.
My brothers and I listened regularly to shows like "Dick Barton, Special Agent" (in England); "Captain Silver and the Sea Hound"; "Superman, Man of Steel"; and "Tarzan, King of the Apes".
My sisters and mother would hardly miss an episode of "When a Girl Marries" ("dedicated to those who were in love, and to all those who can... remember"), and a few other "girly" shows (we "men" were above all of that soppy stuff).
Dad didn't listen to much except the news and news commentary, but when it was on, it was important not to interrupt. Maybe someone can help me out here: the news commentary followed immediately after the news (in Melbourne, circa 1960), and was introduced with "And here is ????'s commentary on the news". I can't remember the commentator's name but I can still hear the introduction. I think it was Reg something, but not sure. Any ideas?
* Recent inspiration: I think it was "E. W. Tipping's Commentary on the News".
There were some shows that were popular with all of us kids. My favourite was a schoolroom comedy called "Yes What?" which was based around a rather dim-witted teacher and his class of four boys, the star being "Greenbottle". Somehow he always tricked the teacher by saying "good morning", which confused the teacher and he would ask "good morning?" to which they all chorused "go-o-o-d morning sir" and went home.

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