My first radio restoration

While sorting through my uncatalogued slides, I found one that brought back very nice memories. These were memories of an old radio, of a mightily impressive short circuit, of fingers burned with an inexpertly handled soldering iron, and above all, memories of a treasured friendship.

This restoration was a joint-venture with Coco, the guy wearing braces. I'm the one in the middle - 13 years old, not yet using glasses. I'll never forget how we first met: We were introduced to each other by a common friend, to whom I usually talked in German, so I naturally talked to Coco in German too, until his startled look told me that something was very wrong... His languages were Spanish and French! After a good laugh we continued in Spanish, common to us all, and we quickly became very good friends. We shared several hobbies, and as a result we spent almost all our free time together - flying model airplanes, biking, swimming, doing water-ski, trekking, stringing up a mike to spy on his sisters (he had three of 'em), and also restoring this radio put aside by his father. He was called by his  nickname Coco by everyone, so that for months I didn't even know his real name! Our desire to have a means of communication between our homes (telephones were scarce back then, and my family didn't have one) was my first incentive to become a radio amateur.

There are so many memories of this friendship, like that time when he had broken a leg, had it in plaster and thus was condemned to rather stationary activities. So we went to the university parking lot next to his home, and flew his nice large wood-and-fabric kite. But luck had it that a sudden turbulent gust of wind deposited the nice kite on the roof of a university building. So we had to recover it. That building was part of the medicine faculty, and not only that, but it housed the morgue and a pretty impressive collection of diseased body parts preserved in formaldehyde. It was a little bit creepy to us, to say the least!
We explained what had happened to the guy at the door, and were led to a professor who had the keys for the roof. We found him cutting a human leg on a band saw like those used by meat dealers. He gave us the key and asked the guy to show us how to get on the roof. The only way was to ride "the elevator", then lock it in place and climb out of it into the attic. I offered to do it alone, considering Coco's plastered leg, but he would have none of this! It was his kite that had to be saved, so he would come!
When we got to the elevator, after being led along many dozen glass jars filled with impressive cancer tumors floating in formaldehyde,  things became a little more creepy: The elevator was actually just a cage, bearing a big label: "Only for corpses"! So, we had to consider ourselves to be corpses, and jump in. The helpful guy commanded that thing to bring us up, and then we climbed out of it into the building's attic, Coco hobbling on  his plastered leg. The rest of the rescue was uneventful. We retrieved the intact kite and returned via the same route. The next day we had something to brag about to our respective schoolmates!

But let's return to the radio. It was a Chilean-made RCA Victor lowboy radio-phono console. In addition to the phono unit, it had the multiband AM tuner shown here under Coco's expert hands, and a separate power supply and amplifier deck. The amplifier was quite powerful, of high quality, and very heavy, while the speaker was separate and impressively large! I'm not sure now, but I remember it being taller than we were.

We had decided to not just restore, but also modernize this radio. Anyway, the AM tuner would have been rather hard to restore, because in his younger years Coco had removed some electrolytic capacitors from it, thinking they were rechargeable batteries (a valuable rarity back then!). He tried to use them to power the model airplane glow plugs, without success of course. And we had no idea what value they had been, and still lacked the knowledge to guess the values. So, we assembled a modern AM-FM tuner from a kit. It is visible here, and powered by eight batteries mounted in a battery holder fashioned from pine wood. Note that all eight batteries were different! I had already started collecting batteries, and my collection comprised more than forty brands at that time!

The work progressed well, and the radio ended up fully functional and producing a really nice sound. But before that, there was the episode of the Big Bang, which I will tell now for the first time! It had been our secret so far, unless Coco or his sister told it to someone in the 25 years since it happened...

We had installed a lot of new wiring in the nice wooden cabinet, and now had to try it out. So Coco grabbed the power plug, and pushed it into the wall outlet. A mighty explosion followed, and Coco disappeared in a cloud of black smoke. The smoke soon dispersed, and Coco was kneeling there, with a blackened face, totally black hand, black powder all over him, and making a funny face. On the wall there was a big black spot, and in the middle of it, where the outlet had been, was only a big black hole. The outlet had vaporized!

Needless to say, there was no power in the house. We located the circuit breakers, and they were all up and fine! So, the utility company was called. An hour later, they replaced a large main fuse atop the light pole. We told them that we had no idea how it had blown... just the light went out...

Fortunately Coco's parents weren't at home for that weekend. But they would be back on monday, and now it was saturday afternoon! In our desperation, Coco's sister Bieke was a helping angel. She sent us off on our bikes to buy a new outlet, got a bucket of soapy water, and started washing down the wall. When we came back with the outlet, Bieke had washed off most of the black stuff - but the paint too! So, off we went again, to buy a can of paint and a roller. On sunday afternoon the wall again looked like new. I wonder if Coco's parent's ever noticed the smell of fresh paint in that room...

The short apparently had been right in the power plug, because the radio had no damage at all and worked nicely after we fitted a new plug. But we were very hesitant to plug it in after the Big Bang, because some little voice deep inside was telling us that something with that house's circuit breakers was awfully wrong!

The only photo I have of this repair is the one scanned here two times. It was taken by Coco's father, and if memory isn't kidding me, Coco mailed it to me some time after he moved to Belgium with his family.

The radio instead moved to a nunnery not far from where we lived. The nuns had a special liking for the deep, dark, rich wood and the deep, dark, rich sound.

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