General Electric H-87 Restoration
By Paul R. Moens
In the following article, Paul Moens shows that with patience, a collector can rescue a basketcase set and make it an important part of his collection. (Editor)
Many people adopt stray dogs and cats. I guess my claim to fame is that I adopt old radios. A case in point occurred in the fall of 2009 when I completed a 5-year project involving one of those adoptions -- the 1939 GE H-87 console, shown in Figure 1.
It all started with family members being called upon to help rescue the bulky set that had been delivered to my front door at an unexpected time. It was snowing, and as we struggled with the cabinet during transport, the chassis fell out. It had not been secured to the cabinet by the retaining screws and was only held in place by the two front knobs. The Beam-A-Scope, shown in Figure 2, also fell out; in fact, we were all picking up parts out of the snow for quite a while.
Figure 1. The 1939 GE H-87 console.
The Repair Process
The radio's band switch was damaged well beyond repair. In the H-87, the band switch has three wires that attach to the Beam-A-Scope antenna which is part of the circuit wiring. After 70 years, the wires and the wafers on the switch are so fragile and brittle that the least little stress probably has doomed many radios using this design. I'm surprised General Electric didn't provide some type of strain relief.
Most people would have thrown the radio away as junk at this point. Now I'm not a repair technician and only have very basic radio repair skills, but I like a good challenge. I spent the next four years attempting to find a replacement switch thru A.R.C. ads and the Internet -- no luck.
Next, I decided to try to obtain another chassis in workable and restorable condition. My efforts paid off in May, 2009, when I found that "Amazonmike" in Livonia, New York, had one for sale on eBay. I drove there to pick it up rather than risk shipping damage. There were issues with the band switch on this chassis also, but in this case, the band switch was repairable.
The set contained all eight of its original tubes, and all tested very good. The tube complement is as follows: (2) 5Y3 rectifiers, (2) 6Y6 AF outputs, and one each 6J5 inverter, 6SQ7 detector, 6SK7 IF amp, and 6SA7 converter. The set covers the BC and SW bands.
It didn't appear that any paper capacitors had ever been replaced, so I contacted Dave of Dave's Antique Radio & TV Restoration, an advertiser in A.R.C. He is a provider for some chassis repair work in Liverpool, New York. He corrected the band switch issues and replaced all 17 caps. Now I had a working chassis.
My next step and actually the easiest for me was restoring the cabinet. "Amazonmike" provided me with some additional cabinet parts, so I basically made one radio out of two. The lower third of the cabinet must have been subjected to moisture over the years as there was hardly any finish remaining. Again, I'm no expert at stripping and refinishing either, so I took the easier option of matching the mahogany finish, careful sanding, staining, blending and sealing.
It really came out quite nicely. The happy ending to my story is that with some patience even a mere collector like me with limited skills can complete a restoration project. You might even help to stimulate the economy in the process.
Figure 2. Rear view of the 1939 GE H-87 console. The large chassis and "Beam-A-Scope" are prominent.
According to the Bunis/Slusser Collector's Guides to Antique Radios, the H-87 is listed as a 1939 console, although most of the advertising I've seen is from 1940. The suggested retail price back then was $79.95, which is today's equivalent of over $1,200.
I obtained many of my radios in my collection at yard sales and curbsides during my 22 years as a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, as well as by word of mouth. My most prized radio is another console, my father's 1939 Westinghouse WR-366. That was our parlor radio into the early 1950s before my family had our first TV. The "H-87 Project" was tedious but very rewarding, and now this set also has sentimental value in my life. I hope my grandchildren will enjoy it as well someday.
Reference: Dave's Antique Radio and TV Restorations, PO Box 285, Liverpool, NY 13088-0285. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Moens, a retired letter carrier, currently works for the New York State Thruway Authority and is self-employed as a tax & financial advisor. He has been collecting radios since the 1970s. His collection also includes battery portables, tabletops and Zenith Trans-Oceanics.