Vintage Consumer Electronics (Written in 2013)

Vintage Consumer Electronics Among Other Things:

I was born in 1987 and my childhood took place in the late 1980s through the 1990s.  It was truly a wonderful time to be alive.  The economy was decent and almost everyone had plenty of disposable income.  That is NOT what this article is about.  I will TRY to keep the pollitical controversy to a minimum (it will be quite difficult.)  This article, rather, is about the awesome devices that were manufactured and available in those times.  The main focus will be on the various consumer electronics from that era.  This has been on my mind for quite sometime, but I finally decided to write about it.  Funny story:  Earlier in the week I was watching a rerun Married With Children on one of the VH1 channels.  That channel plays two episodes every weekday from 2:00-3:00 PM Central Time.  In both episodes (which were originally aired in 1989), Peg was listening to an AM/FM receiver.  Watching this reminded me of how much I enjoy the devices from that time period and that show gave me the inspiration for writing this.

The electronics of today do NOT hold a candle to those retro electronics.  Sure they have more features, along with plenty of bells and whisltes…BUT…They aren’t built to last.  We have shamefully become a throw away society.  Don’t get me wrong, I GREATLY enjoy technologies like WiFi, 3G/4G phone service, digital storage media and high-speed internet access. I have become highly dependent on these and would be in deep trouble without them.  By the grace of God, my Asus Eee PC netbook has lasted for four years at the time I am writing this!  It is made in China, but by a Tiawanese company.  Pray tell me, how in the hell did that happen?  Anyway, I hope to get MANY MORE years of reliable service from it.  I have a Pantech Link that I purchased this year at my local CVS/Pharmacy.  This quick messaging phone had been on the shelf for about 3 years.  It was made in South Korea and that was one of the main reasons why I acquired it.  So far, it has preformed very well.  I also have three scanners and two Weatherband radios that were not exactly brand new when purchased (but still new enough to be modern; 2008 to present.)  Most of the “modern” electronics I own, were purchased as new-old stock.  I do this on purpose for two reasons: 1) I can’t always afford the latest and greatest. AND 2) I do NOT like how everything is going to be a touch screen interface.  However, I have accepted that the transition is inevitable and know that I will have to take it in a stride…BUT…It would sure be awesome if we could marry today’s technological innovations with the building quality of the vintage devices.

By the way:

I do NOT buy products manufactured in China, UNLESS there is no other alternative.  The only good in Chinese made gadgets is they have features that were non-existant 20-30 years ago and can be had for a realistic price.  Keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Also, know that China does NOT have the quality control standards that the rest of the industrialized world does.


With that being said, I would like to talk about the awesome gadgets made from the 1980s and early 1990s.  Those amazing transistor radios and the then-novel intergrated circuit radios were a household item.  These analog slide rule (and/or rotary) tuned devices preform just as well as the modern phase-lock-loop tuned radios of today.  Even more, they immensely outpreform the slide rule and rotary radios of today.  Unfortunately, the use of these vintage devices quickly becomming a thing of the past.  Internet media has taken a huge toll on the popularity of terrestrial radio.  These awesome receivers are mostly stored away in closets and hardly ever used.  However, in times of natural (or man-made) disasters they are brought out of the woodwork and prove themselves time and time again. There is still a demand for them from collectors.   There is also a demand for them from folks who desire a simpler way to get entertainment and information.  A good example would be the middle-aged working class man who enjoys nighttime sporting events.  Many times these games are NOT carried on a local station and would cost extra on pay-TV. Because of the robust build and quality circuitry, these older radios can easily pick up distant AM stations after sunset.  This would indeed allow that sports fan to hear the details of his sportscast.  Yes, there are modern AM receivers that can tune distant stations but they usually cost $100+ per set and your vintage set will preform nearly as well.  Best of all, these radios still offer a plethora of FREE music and information for the masses.  When I say free, I mean totally free.  The only expenses to the user are the initial price of the equipment and the power (grid current or batteries) to power it.  There is no subscription fee and not even a need for internet access!  These radios are quite common on ebay and any local thrift store.  Many of them can be had for a steal!  In the recent and even current economy, people are buying more second hand items.  Now, if only, these damn companies could build their modern products to have the same longevity and reliability as they did years ago.

Here is my point:

These electronics were meant to last. They were made in a time when technology was beginning to become more compact, rugged and user friendly.  Countries like South Korea, Japan, British Hong Kong were producing quality, competitive goods.  These countries still produce high quality goods, but on a much smaller scale (damn it.)  South Korea makes damn good mobile phones and Japan makes wonderful amateur (ham) radio equipment.  Unfortunately modern day (Chinese) budget electronics are not built to the same quality as they were in the 1980-90s and it is a DAMN SHAME.

Words of advice:

If you own one (or more) of these vintage machines, make damn sure to take care of it.  Check that battery compartment often.  If you use it infrequently; remove the batteries.  All it takes is one battery leak and your radio will be ruined.  Keep it in a cool, dry place in your home or jobsite.  Though they are generally rugged, treat them as gently as you can. Do NOT raise the volume to its maximum setting as this will eventually ruin your speaker.  If you follow these tips any of these electronics might last another 20-30 years.  The only issue is when the weakest circuit fails; the whole device fails.  This is NOT common occurence and some of you more advanced readers out there can repair without much trouble.  Damnit I wish I were that advanced (maybe, one day.)  Believe it or not, Radio Shack still sells electronic components for this very purpose.

Personal Experiences:

Over the course of my young life, I have come across several of these vintage electronics.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, my parents and neighbors had several transistor radios.  I had a few too growing up.  The first one I remember was an AM/FM Sears Transistor Radio that I was allowed to play with.  My dad also had a Zenith AM/FM portable and from the mid 1970s until 2004.  Those two were awesome machines.  My dad would listen to Saints and LSU on these while muting the television (many WWL listeners did and still do the same.)  In the mid 1990s the quality of these devices began to decline.  More and more were beginning to be made in China.  For Christmas of 1995, I received a Lennox Sound AM/FM receiver, which also had a cassette deck.  It was all right, but could have been much better.  I kept that thing locked on Mix 104.1. Now, that same station (though changing formats several times) plays the same music from the 1990s along with some contemporary hits as well. It is now known as Voodoo 104.  Ask any 90’s kid and he/she will tell you that there was no iTunes or Youtube.  If you wanted a copy of your favorite song, you would tune in a station that played it and record it to a cassette (which would then become a mix tape.)  I did this for hours on many summer days.  Another vintage radio I can remember was a Hitachi AM/FM transistor that was given to me by a janitor at my high school.  Mr. Earl Smith was his name and he is gone now. God rest his soul.  That radio came in handy during hurricane Katrina when I was with my family up in Bossier City.  They wanted to know what was going on in New Orleans and it was nighttime, so I tuned in WWL.  Now for you well seasoned radio listeners, this was no big deal…BUT…It was downright amazing to my family.  Last January, I scored a 1985 Realistic (Radio Shack) 12-636 off of Ebay.  Man, this thing was/is awesome.  It was made in British Hong Kong 28 years ago and still works perfectly.  Last March, I was shopping at Goodwill and saw a Radio Shack BoomBox.  I don’t remember the exact model number, but it was red, had two tape decks and had a VERY good AM/FM tuner. I would imagine it was made between 1984 and 1994. This machine already had batteries in it, so I tried it out.  It worked wonderfully and was also Korean made.  The price tag, I think, was $5.99.  Unfortunately, I did NOT buy it and I could kick myself for that decision. 

Good idea:

Take advantage of your local thrift stores and garage sales.  You will eventually come across a radio like one of these.  When you do, sieze the opportunity and buy it.  99% of the time, you will get it for a very low price. If/when you find one make it your business to purchase it.  You will be pleasantly surprised. Even if you only use it for disaster preparedness, it will serve you well.  Examine it:  Look for any physical damage that might hinder performance.  Ignore minor cosmetic damage, because it still could work well in lieu of its age and appearance.  Feel it to see if it has a decent build (usually the heavier it is, the better.)  Try out the controls and see exactly what stations you can pull in.  If the telescopic antenna is damaged; don’t be discouraged.  More than likely; you could be able to replace it with a new one from our local Radio Shack.

About Vintage Televisions:

Televisions from 1980’s and early 1990’s were built extremely well, but are now partially obsolete.  Becuase of the government mandated June 2009 Digital conversion, you won’t be able to receive the free antenna broadcasts.  Of course you can easily buy a converter box and set it up.  A few of them feature a built in cable tuner, so watching expanded basic should not be an issue.  Even the ones that are not cable ready are still useful with most gaming consoles (make sure the gaming system has an RF modulator that broadcasts on channel 3/4.)  The more sophisticated models came with RCA AV terminals which would allow almost all consoles to be used.  These televisions are constantly showing up in thrift stores.  Another story:  I had a 1992 Zenith Sentry 2 televsion from 1992 until 2010.  It came with multiband cable options in addition to the air channels.  It also sported various picture and audio settings.  During its later years, I used it for DXing. On many summer nights, I picked up stations from hundreds of miles away with just a simple pair of rabbit ears. 

What NOT to keep:

There are some devices from this time period that are NOT worth holding on to.  They are indeed well built, but no longer practical.  Unless you are a collector, consider recycling or donating them to a museum.  Cellular phones from the 1980s and early 1990s were designed to work on a system that is no longer available (1G AMPS.)  Needless to say, they are rendered completely useless.    Cordless phones (49 MHz) from those days might still work when connected to your landline, but are highly subjectable to eavesdropping and interference.  Any one with the simplest scanner can clearly hear all that is said on them.  Also, your WiFi, Bluetooth, cell phones and all other devices that emit RF energy will hinder its preformance.  Scanners from the 1980s and early 1990s are getting to be obsolete as well.  They are horribly inefficient when it comes to power consumption.  They have limited memory capacity.  They will NOT intercept trunked radio systems properly and CANNOT decode ANY digital communications.  The government mandated narrowbanding, which began on January 1 2013, seals the fate of doom for these scanners even further.  They will NOT be able to properly tune in most transmissions, even on conventional analog frequencies.  Granted, you could still hear VHF Marine, Ham radio, Weatherband and SOME aircraft communications for years (maybe decades) to come.

On a SLIGHTLY unrelated topic:

Before I close, I want to talk a little bit about flashlights from the 1990s.  I figure it’s a topic I am more informed on than anything else.  This was a wonderful time for portable lighting tools.  Brands like Garrity, Energizer/Eveready, Rayovac and Maglite were all staples.  Krypton bulbs were a standard feature on every decent model.  Most people in my neighborhoold had a Garrity Tuff Lite or a Rayovac Workhorse. Every now and then you would see an Eveready or Rayovac Industrial flashlight.  I was the first in my neighborhood to own a Maglite.  At the time, Maglites were known to most people as the best flashlights out there.  They were also too expensive for the “average” consumer.  Remember, this was 1998 and only the “richer” folks had internet access.  Therefore none of us knew about the higher end lights like Streamlight and Sure Fire   Needless to say; and everyone around me was impressed when they saw my Maglite turn on.  Now, unfortunately, these vintage flashlights are quickly becoming a thing of the past.  Higher powered, but poorly built LED imports from China are taking their place.  What many fail to realize is that LED flashlights, like transistor radios are only as good as the weakest component in their circuitry.  If that one component goes out, the whole flashlight is ruined.  These foreign lights are generally non repairable.  However, on an older flashlight, the bulb can easily be replaced.  The overwhelming majority of vintage flashlights take flange based PR bulbs.  PR bulbs can be purchased at your local hardware retailer and even your grocer.  Many times, you can find them for a discounted price.  There are also LED upgrade bulbs that are designed to fit in the place of a PR bulb.  Take caution with these can sometimes overheat. Make sure you carefully follow the technical specifications.  As long as you take care of your flashlight mechanically, it could very well last a lifetime.  Many of them are already very rugged.  They are designed to stand up to all kinds of abuse, but don’t push it.  Maglite is probably the most rugged of them all and they have wonderful customer service. Tony faithfully stands by his products.  In most cases, when a part on their flashlight fails, they replace or repair it for free.  If you own an incandescent Maglite (non-LED C or D cell model) hang on to it.  There are Maglites from 1979 (their year of introduction) that are still in working order today.  Eveready/Energizer makes most of their flashlights in China now, except for a few Value and Industrial models.  Rayovac has really let itself go in some ways, but has also come out with some innovations.  Unfortunately the bulk (if not all) of their flashlights are foreign.   Garrity, had gone out of business for a while, is slowly making a comeback.  Hopefully their website will be back up soon, but that’s a whole other story… To find a good vintage flashlight, try your local thrift store, flea market and sometimes garage sales.  Most likely, if you can find a vintage radio at one of these places you can probably find a vintage flashlight too.   American made flashlights both vintage and current are the absolute best.  There are also some decent vintage ones made in British Hong Kong and Portugese Macau.  Other countries that produce decent vintage and modern lights are Malaysia and Thailand.  Every now and then there are actually some good Chinese made models, but be cautious.  Heed my word and stock up on as many flashlights as you can.  Like vintage radios, flashlights (vintage or modern) can prove a critical instrument during times of disaster. Take good care of your flashlights as they might be of value years down the road.  Treat them as I have advised you to treat your radios:  Be sure to keep them in a cool, dry place.  If you are not using them on a regular basis, store them in a familiar spot.   Keep the batteries near (but not in) them.  I personally carry a flashlight of some kind with me everywhere I go.  I think everyone else should do likewise.  You never know when you might need one and it’s better to be safe than sorry.  Flashlights that were carried by ordinary folks (and not first responders) helped dozens of others get out of the Twin Towers safely on 9-11.  What if you are in a mall or subway or parking garage and the lights fail?  Think about that and maybe you will realize the importance of carrying a flashlight.   For all you single men out there:  Imagine how you could impress a lady with your flashlight in a situation of such.


That’s all I have to say.  Hopefully, you weren’t bored to death.  Thank you for putting up with the sub par grammar and please understand that I try my best.   Please forgive me if I was too technical (or not technical enough.)  Try to use this information to your advantage.  Now that my sermon is over, please pass the collection plate (just kidding.)

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