Radio Ga-Ga

There was a time when radios really were radios – calling them a ‘wireless’, as we invariably did back then (the 40s and 50s), was a total misnomer because there was more wire in a wireless than could be found on the beaches on ‘D Day’! Why we don’t call these modern, sleek, solid-state, ‘wireless’ radios a wireless is beyond me. Must be a generational thing!

Anyway, what got me started on this line of thought was this – I was rummaging through some of my bits and bobs when I came across the story of a certain Nusret Berişa. Mr Berişa used to run a radio repair business from his workshop in the back streets of the Balat district in İstanbul. Mr Berişa was also a survivor from the long vanished age of steam radio. I say was because my notes are more than ten years old and this usta (craftsman) was of mature years even then. He would have nothing whatever to do with transistor radios – they were beneath contempt and, when broken, worthy of nothing more than the dustbin. The shelves of his workshop were stacked with old radios, some for sale, some awaiting repair. Alongside them were neatly stacked boxes of single and double-ganged tuning capacitors and dusty, fly-blown boxes of thermionic valves – you know, those things that look like strangely shaped light bulbs with equally strange names like ‘double diode triode’.

But I’m digressing, as normal; what I really want to talk about and show you is one of my most prized possessions after J – my RCA Victor AR88 LF.

this is my RCA Victor AR88 LF – a few mods over the years but only one repair – excuse the dust!

WW2 underground naval comms centre Portsmouth AR88 to left

Built in 1936 in Montreal, Canada it was one of many that were confiscated from radio enthusiasts and shipped to Britain during the war to be used for radio surveillance and eavesdropping on enemy communications. In its many variations it found its way onto ships, submarines and planes; they were even shipped to Russia and China (before they too became the enemy). Those who know about these things describe the AR88 as the greatest communications receiver ever built and as I gaze at the battered, black-crackle front panel with its glowing dials of my beauty, who am I to disagree?

I acquired ‘her’ from a boffin who used to work for the UK Government Communications HQ in Cheltenham. He used to come into my village pub for a few beers and a chat as he went steadily bonkers – he gave me the radio one day and then disappeared.

When J and I moved lock, stock and barrel to Turkey the old girl came too, and I bet the removal guys remember her well because it took two of them to move her around safely.


Call me an old geek, but thirty five or more years on from the day she came into my life, I still can’t resist the urge on a dark winter evening to turn her on, twirling her knobs while she warms up a bit before gently lifting her lid to admire the amazing sight of her valves glowing orange and blue and yellow. As the sound of the RF begins to gently hum and buzz and the logs crackle in the hearth, I start to tune through the airwaves, ever hopeful that I’ll hear the opening announcement for ‘Much Binding In The Marsh’ or the sinister music of ‘Journey Into Space’.

Those were the days!

called to arms 1943

de-mobbed and back in civvy street circa 1954

For those of you who arrived here expecting rather more than a load of old twaddle about a radio here’s Queen performing at their very best – enjoy!

Alan Fenn, not really of this world.

10 thoughts on “Radio Ga-Ga

  1. Well, Alan, you certainly know how to push the nostalgia button. It was really a great posting that evoked for us memories of fussing with home-made crystal radio receivers (popular in the 1950s in the U.S.) and short wave radio sets of the 1970s. Your old beast (we remember visiting the Massachusetts Institute of Technology museum in Cambridge – ours not yours – and seeing one of he original computers which took up an entire room) was the advanced technology of its day and deserves respect and loving care, which we know you are providing. In our throw-away world, your ‘wireless’ is immortal.

  2. . . they don’t make ’em like that any more! Never ceases to amaze me at what can be pulled in when the conditions are right (and even when they are not).

  3. First of all, what’s a boffin? Your education of my untrained ear continues.

    Second, what, exactly, is a steam radio? As with the Senior Dogs, I too began to wax nostalgic for my Dad’s old shortwave (sitting in my basement still) that I grew up listening to. I also have not been able to throw out his old crystal set – he fiddled and fussed with it as a child, just as his father and uncle did. In fact, they ran an illegal radio station in Belmont with that thing, or so says my dad.

    Third, as for Queen, of the Radio GaGa kind, bravo!

    Fourth, I giggle as I sit here in Provincetown, across from WOMR the community radio station, where my new fangled stereo from the 90s is broken – and only picks up that one station. But what a progressive and bizzarre station it is!

  4. Well, ‘Prof’, the Oxford English defines ‘boffin’ as – (chiefly British) a person engaged in scientific or technical research – as opposed to a ‘boffer’ which is a sort of acronym for a ‘boring old fart’, a subject in which I am quite learned!
    A ‘steam radio’ is simply a reference to old but not too old. So, a steam radio would be one of the valve types as opposed to transistorised or solid state. We native English speakers will also use the term ‘. . back in the days of steam radio’ to define a generalised period.
    It is a proven fact that ‘Queen’ was the greatest rock band that ever exisited or, if the Laws of Nano-Quantum Mechanics are to be believed, could ever exist in the multi-dementia-sional future.
    As for WOMR, I’m betting my steaming beauty could pluck their bizzarreness out of the ether on a good night with a following breeze!

  5. I saw something like this in my Grandpa’s basement when I was in highschool, but he gave it to my dad. I don’t know why they kept that thing. maybe they will post and sell it via etsy.

    1. Hi Marnie and welcome to Archers! ‘You don’t know why they kept that thing’ – Marnie, how could you! It would be like flogging your granny for a few pennies. 😉

. . I'd love to hear from you, please comment