Building And Testing A 1912-style Radio

A glimpse at a high-end radio set, for 1912. (Credit: [glasslinger], YouTube)
Doing electronics in the 1910s was rather rough, with the radio probably the pinnacle of hi-tech. Despite this, with some know-how and basic wood- and metal-working skills you could get pretty far with DIY-ing a radio set. As [glasslinger] demonstrates in a YouTube video, you can even build your own set with your own crafted tube-amplifier. With items like a hand-crafted resistor and capacitor – as well as tuning elements and period-correct point-to-point wiring – it definitely has that retro vibe to it.

Such DIY projects used to be very commonly featured in electronics magazine, even after the transistor came onto the scene by the 1950s. The fancier designs use a regenerative design, like this one by [Dick Whipple] which provides not only some background theory, but also the full schematic and how-to in case you feel like giving it a shake yourself.

Even if you’re not into crafting your own basic electronic components, radios like these are a great introduction to a lot of RF theory and amplification basics.

27 thoughts on “Building And Testing A 1912-style Radio

  1. I used to absolutely love glasslinger for being who they are, delightfully nerdy, amazingly skilled and sufficiently quirky… up until one relatively tame political joke shattered my image of them… just the fact that a person openly roots for a party whose members would very likely have nothing but disdain for some ofthe person’s very visible lifestyle choices… I don’t know why that felt so particularly disheartening in this case. I watch other youtube channels where I disagree with the creator’s occasional politcal statements but usually it’s just something to shrug off and look past… but I suppose I really wanted to *love* this person, not just respect their skill and dedication. The latter of which I still do, their builds and repairs are simply mind blowing.

      1. Sure. Within certain limits it is important to respect that one another have differing opinions. But when a political party starts actively working to take away one’s right to chose another… respecting a person’s right to chose that party becomes self eliminating.

    1. I really don’t mind the occasional political statement, heck this comment probably counts as one, we all have opinions and in general are pretty moderate in our support, there are channels where it’s easy to overloook and the main content is just that, Glasslinger’s channel was/is one and their abillities are a pleasure to watch but it does boggle the mind somewhat that somebody could support a political party that aligns itself with and campaigns for your own eradication and where a large percentage of thiers members would openly admit to hating you.

  2. School books should cover things like this. After a catastrophe, this is the type of technology that surviving citizens could build on their own.

    A matching transmitter can be build equally simple. Sort of a tunnell diode can be built (see zinc negative resistance).
    A ham had built such a device from scratch (for CW of course, but AM/FM is just a matter of feeding the oscillator correctly).

    1. Hard to imagine a catastrophe, that would wipe out all present radio receivers / transceivers, and still leave the public transmitting stations operating, along with supply of tubes and batteries etc.

      In such a situation, short two-way CW contacts are probably not the first priority.

      1. An EMP would be enough to do quite some damage.
        A high solar activity can cause some damage, too.
        There are many possible reasons why modern tech could fail eventually.
        It’s fragile sunshine technology (pun intended).

        “In such a situation, short two-way CW contacts are probably not the first priority.”

        Was this meant to be sarcastic?
        I’m an SWL and CBer, not a CW fetishist by the way.

        Anyway, I highly recommend reading science fiction novels from circa the 1950s to 1970s.
        They have such topics about rebuilding civilization and culture.

        As far as I’m concerned, I’d say that reading novels and reading books in general is something that people had been quite neglected for a while.

      2. That’s the trouble with most things that start with a catastrophe and end with saving the day using old/simple methods thus proving that you don’t need modern tech. It’s more realistic but less validating to that sort of fantasy if you figure that any reasonable catastrophe would leave some modern tech available for use. Because then what you really need to do is to be good at getting the most out of what you have, both by taking care of it and by scrounging around to patch things together. Maybe that means your wristwatch is suddenly valuable because as long as you keep it safe and powered, you should be able to have fairly accurate time at home for decades.

        1. “Itā€™s more realistic but less validating to that sort of fantasy if you figure that any reasonable catastrophe would leave some modern tech available for use.”

          To me, it’s more about the ability to re-create. I’m more of a tinkerer, less a consumer.
          You can build yourself a tent or a wooden shack more easily than a concrete building.
          Even stone buildings are a craftsmanship. Cathedrals were built by masters of their craftsmanship.
          The concrete mixture of ancient Rome is still a secret to us modern people.
          Likewise, crystal radios can be understood and re-built by, say, monks and teenagers.
          Same goes for the incandescent lamp. Both a water-operated vacuum pump and the bulb itself can be built in a village in a post-apocalyptic world, if the knowledge is being preserved.
          Building a digital radio or Z80/6502 microprocessor from scratch isn’t simple by contrast.
          It’s need a much bigger, fully intact infrastructure. All of this seem meaningless, maybe, but let’s think about 200 to 10.000 years into the future.
          Or the past. We think we’re so smart these days, but nolonger know how the great pyramids had been built.

  3. I actually built a regenerative tube radio several months back. I found a box of assorted interesting-looking electronics parts in a thrift store, and it turned out to include, among other things, a complete kit from Borden Radio: their Armstrong one-tube set. (Between that $90 kit and a set of vernier dials, it was a pretty good deal at $10.)

    I’ve had it up and pulling in stations, though this apartment isn’t ideal for long wire antennas.

    1. I really recommend trying out the superregenerative receiver.
      It’s also known as “PendelempfƤnger” or “Pendelaudion” in Germany (=pendulum audion, swinging audion).
      Because it swings back and forth between a state of least and most sensitivity. Like the “Pendel” (pendulum) of a grandfather’s clock.
      That’s why it has some background noise, too.
      It sort of can also receive SSB/CW, but poorly.

      The normal regenerative audion is known as “RĆ¼ckkopplungsaudion” (=backfeeding audion, because it oscillates back into the circuit).
      It’s great, because as a side effect it can detect SSB and CW through the equivalent of an built-in BFO (beat frequency oscillator):
      That’s what the regenerative part does to it.

      The normal audion ist called just “Audion” or less popular, “DirektempfƤnger”.
      It’s the most common circuit among beginners after the detector radio/crystal radio. It can be modified to become a regenerative audion.

      (The direct-conversion radio, “DirektmischempfƤnger”, too, but it’s lesser being known. Hams had used it, I think. To receive 40m ham band and 41m broadcast band.)

      Speaking of, in the early 20th century, during war time, German SWLs were not completely allowed to use radios with amplifying tube.
      The radio tube, if any, was allwed for detection, AF amplification and -to some degree- as an RF amplifier stage.

      The regenerative receiver, however, was highly forbidden to be built. No oscillator based on tubes!
      Doing so could end up in a death penalty, no kidding. You’d be shot.

      It’s understandable that the old “DetektorempfƤnger” (detector receivers aka crystal radio sets) had a big revival in this era. Use of batteries was common, too.
      Only a few SWLs wanted to risk losing their lifes, so tube-free circuits had been optimized in that time.

      (Speaking under correction)

      1. I forgot to mention, we had other names for the the diode receiver, too.
        For example, “KristallempfƤnger” meant crystal radio set.

        Though something like “Detektorapparat” or “DetektorempfƤnger” was perhaps more used in contemporary literature, not sure. šŸ¤·ā€ā™‚ļø

        Here in Germany, we often thought about the detector in its function.
        The glas diode was functionally practically identical, of course.

        Though in practice, a real, well-tuned detector crystal has a better characteristics (linearity, sensitivity) than the average germanium or schottky glas diode (“DiodenempfƤnger”, diode receiver) .

        So it’s still worth discovering the past using old school parts.
        Trying out all the different types of crystals can be fun. šŸ™‚

          1. You’re welcome. ^^
            Radio technology had quite some German influence here and there.
            “Telefunken” company rivaled Marconi and others early on, for example.
            Heinrich Hertz recognized the radio waves.
            The international Morse alphabet is based on the Gerke Alphabet etc.
            Lots of influence here and there.
            SOS distress signal was from Germany, too. Marconi Company was using CQD until the Titanic accident. Anyway, other countries had notably contributations, as well. There’s so much to radio history.

        1. A RĆ¼ckkopplungsaudion really needs an input RF amplifier, not to provide extra sensitivity but to keep the raucous oscillation of the superregeneration stage from going back up the antenna and interfering with any local reception on the same frequency.

          1. That’s something that the infamous “VE 301” radio did, by the way (VE=VolksempfƤnger, folks’ receiver).

            That mean little box was so cheaply built that it did radiate back to antenna (no pre-amp stage etc).

            The VE 301 had been built by various radio makers, under pressure.
            They were being forced to build this unit.

            The sad side-effect was that citizens who listened to BBC London could be located.
            Or any other free, western radio ststion.

            Maybe not immediately, but after a while.
            Cars, vans, with directional finding equipment did already exist at the time..

            I didn’t experience it myself, but I’ve heard a couple of such stories from my grandma.

            One, family I was told, had piled up a mountain of cushions around the radio, so spying neighbors etc wouldn’t notice they would listen to BBC to learn about true development of the war.

            It was very dangerous, because listening to foreign radio stations at the time was considered a crime and ended in a death penalty.

            Of course, this didn’t help if your VE 301 radio was betraying you and made you a target.

            (speaking under correction)

  4. Oh the irony in needing a device with millions of transistors, Gbs of memory, a screen and an internet connection that probably uses high-tech radio itself to watch a video about something so simple.

  5. “even after the transistor came onto the scene by the 1950s”

    It always amazes me how easily it is forgotten that there is a big difference between the introduction of an item and the availability/affordability of that same item. In other words, many tinkerers weren’t able to buy or a “simple” transistor in the 1950’s.

    It’s the same reason that many people didn’t own a CD-player in 1982, it took over a decade before the majority stepped in. The fact that something existed doesn’t automatically make it mainstream, these things take time to become accepted and affordable. There are many examples, like cars, computers, phones, mobile phones. The fact that something exists, doesn’t instantly makes it the obvious solution for everyone or every situation.

  6. I remember reading about Hugo Gernsback’s early years building and selling “wireless” kits. He was using pencil “leads” for resistors, but found out their values were inconsistent. Fortunately, the manufacturer of the pencils was in the same city (NYC) and visiting them he was able to get them to make some “leads” with consistent resistance for him.

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