The Westerner

Radio resurrector

Thursday, 11 May 2006

Source: By Lee Oliver

It’s no surprise that the radio stations that Doug Dowling has tuned in to his car and home stereos can be found on the AM dial.

The Strathpine resident is a member of the Historical Wireless Society of South East Queensland, a group that treasures antique valve radios made well before the onset of FM and digital technology.

The non-profit group, which has around 140 members, shares a love of all things valve radio, from classic crystal sets to grandiose gramophones, and is dedicated to restoring antique radios and preserving Australia’s rich radio industry history.

Mr Dowling, 56, who has been collecting antique wireless radios for a decade, says there’s nothing better than saving an old, discarded valve radio from the trash heap and then hearing it crackle back to life after its resurrection.

He said his hobby “can charge back memories for anybody over 50”, back to the days when “Blue Hills” and “When a Girl Marries” were radio show staples and children would dash home to listen to “The Air Adventures of Biggles”.

“I used to listen to the radio with my dad in the early 50s,” Mr Dowling recalls.

“At seven o’clock at night everyone would gather around the radio, and if you spoke when the ABC news came on you’d get a clip over the ear.”

While some enthusiasts have “a couple of hundred” radios, Mr Dowling has a modestly-sized collection of a few dozen restored items.

“I don’t have a large collection, but I have a collection that I like - it’s varied and I’ve got a little bit of this and little bit of that,” he said.

All the radios in Mr Dowling’s collection were manufactured between 1927 and 1952, with all but one of one of his restored machines Australian made.

The emergence of transistor radios and the onslaught from overseas markets combined to kill off the valve radios, and the healthy domestic industry it had spawned, in the mid-1950s.

Before then local brands such as Amalgamated Wireless Australia, Astor, His Master’s Voice, Stromberg Carlson, Airzone and Music Master, a Brisbane-based manufacturer, filled the Australian radio market.

“Australia was at the forefront of radio manufacture and design and our physical characteristics in design and manufacture of radios was world class,” Mr Dowling said.

“We had some magical designs and presentations that were absolutely beautiful.

“Some of the veneer work and inlay work on some of the radios you wouldn’t get today because it would cost too much.”

Mr Dowling said while historic radios appreciate in value, the radio trade game is a buyer’s market, as “what’s one person’s junk is another man’s treasure.”

“It depends on what a person is prepared to pay - somebody might pay $10 to $20 and another person might pay $100 because they’re absolutely desperate for that particular item,” he said.

Mr Dowling said it was important to preserve radio history and its artifacts, especially as the artistry and personal touch of old radios had been switched off with the onslaught of mass-produced consumer goods.

“To throw away something because it’s just an old AM radio and it’s 50 or 60 years old and you can’t see the sense in keeping it is mind boggling to me,” he said.

“If you do have an old valve radio from 1950 or prior don’t dare throw it out, because for it to go to landfill is throwing out part of the heritage of your family.”

The next meeting of the Historical Wireless Society of South East Queensland takes place at the Caboolture Historical Village hall on 18 June.

For more information about the club visit or phone 0404 900 021.

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