By Don Watson
In the following article, Don Watson makes a strong case for the hands-on experience of a flea market versus eBay for finding radios to restore and add to your collection. He describes one of his successes. (Editor)
Part of the fun of the radio-collecting hobby is the pursuit of that "Diamond in the Rough." My wife and I enjoy attending local flea markets and estate and garage sales looking for the next project. At such venues, you can see exactly what you get and can negotiate a price.
When I find an eye-catching radio, that's when the bartering and the fun start. That never happens on eBay. Online buying takes all the joy out of being able to take a set with a lot of restoration potential home right away to begin working on both the cabinetry and the electronics.
Bringing a radio back to life in appearance and performance is very rewarding. To that end, I maintain an extensive parts inventory to restore these radios of yesteryear to their original performance. I am still amazed to this day at their sensitivity, selectivity, and audio quality. After some fifty plus years, the thrill is still there when I spend a cold winter evening BCB DXing.
Figure 1. The restored Farnsworth Model ET-066.
The Farnsworth ET-066
One of my finds at a flea market is a 1946 Farnsworth ET-066. After much haggling with the owner, we went from $35 to $20. The main attraction was the ornate cabinet on this radio. A lot of attention had been paid to detail, especially the fluted pilasters on each side. No part of this cabinet escaped attention or failed to display some special feature. The top and sides are mahogany veneer and the front appears to be walnut.
Removing the old finish revealed the beauty of the wood. I restained it with oil to enhance the grain and refinished it to the original color with a satin polyurethane finish. This set receives many compliments as displayed, among others, in our home. The restored radio is shown in Figure 1.
I followed my usual procedures for the electrical restoration. The first thing was to clean up the chassis with compressed air. Fortunately, this one wasn't filled with more dead bugs than radio parts like another one I remember restoring. I also used WD-40 and a tooth brush.
Next, I changed all the capacitors. The electrolytic capacitors dry out and lose their value. The paper capacitors tend to absorb moisture and have excessive leakage currents. The tubes were tested for shorts and emission. Everything seemed to point to success.
However after completion, the radio would play for 30 minutes and stop. I determined that the local oscillator was failing. Replacing the tube and all associated resistors did not fix the problem. I was down to two components to test -- the oscillator coil and a mica capacitor.
Changing the capacitor fixed the problem. In my over fifty years of playing radios, I had never found a bad mica capacitor. This was a first-time problem. But, I learned that they go bad from Ray Bintliff's articles on capacitors in A.R.C.
It doesn't seem as if Farnsworth ever made a big splash in the market which was dominated by RCA, Philco and Zenith. The company also made Capehart after World War II. Though never very popular, it had a reputation for quality.
As soon as we break out of winter, we will be in pursuit of another "diamond in the rough."
(Don Watson, 538 Yarmouth Rd., Elk Grove Vlg., IL 60007)
Don Watson, a retired communications repair technician, has been collecting radios since the 1950s. He received his Amateur license at age 16 and has been an Extra Class Ham radio operator, K9DDO, since 1961. His hobby is restoring electronics and cabinetry.