Dating Old Radios: The Dial Method

A major problem faced by radio collectors is to determine the age of some given set. Several informations can be used; this document may help you to interpret the collection of station names listed on the dial. My experience tells me that the usability of this method is very limited; usually an uncertainty of several years remains, and the experienced collector dates a radio to within this precision just by looking at the cabinet and the tube type numbers! This document is about European dials; the info on American dials is different.

The Axiom of Dial Soundness

The method is based on the assumption that a radio builder only puts existing stations (at manufacturing time) on the dial. Thus, the radio was produced when all listed stations existed simultaneously.

A radio builder may incorporate an announced service change before it becomes effective, or observe a change some time after it has become effective; this causes inaccuracies.

The Axiom of Dial Completeness

No dial is large enough to list all stations existing at the time of its production, but we may assume that it gives the major stations from the country of manufacturing at the time of manufacturing. So if the dial misses a major station from the producing country, it was not produced when the station was operating.

This is not true even for the neighboring countries; for example, the Nordmende Stradella from Germany, 1965, lists Hilversum 1, but not Hilversum 2, which was also operating in 1965.

How to Use

Print this list and carry it with you to the places where you find sets. Match the stations listed on the dial with the stations in the list; this should be feasible because the list is sorted by wavelength just like the dial. The names in the list are followed by the year they started and ended using the given wavelength, limiting the production year of sets on which they are found.
Some care is required when using the method. Please inform me about any errors or omissions you may find. I would appreciate to receive a list of stations from your country (if not already listed). As an excercise and because the method is still experimental, try your hands on some already dated sets first, and inform me about the results!

The FM Dial

Most European radios do not list stations on the FM dial; however, if your European radio has FM some dating information can be obtained. The FM band was defined to range from 87.5 to 198 MHz during a conference in 1948, but this band was not fully used from the beginning.

Initially only the lower part, 87.5 to 100 MHz, was used for broadcasting, and the upper half (110 to 108) was reserved for mobile services. The first European FM radios appeared around 1950 and their FM coverage was to 100 MHz; this limit was universal until around 1964.

In the mid sixties it became clear that the upper half of the band would be necessary also; hence manufacturers started to extend the tuning range of their FM radios to 104 MHz. Indeed, it was convened in 1968 that the broadcast use of the band was extended to the range 87.5 to 104 MHz.

The WAARC conference of 1979 assigned the entire band for broadcasting. Until the early eighties Philips produced sets with the 87.5 to 104 FM tuning range; sets produced for intercontinental export already covered the full range with 108 MHz as the upper limit. Sets produced later than the early eighties all covered the full FM band from 87.5 to 108 MHz.

Summarizing, if your set has

no FM: no conclusions can be drawn.
FM was introduced in 1950, but many sets without FM were produced after 1950. However, these were mainly cheapo's (1961), portables (1973), or DIY projects (1995). A salon-type set without FM such as this one (1953) is likely to be older than 1955.
upper limit 100MHz: it dates roughly between 1950 and 1965.
upper limit 104 or 105 MHz: it dates roughly between 1964 and 1980.
upper limit 108 MHz: it dates after about 1980.
Earlier production is possible in Asia or America.

Thanks to ...

Lennart Benschop, for providing information about the use of the FM band.
Paul Sexton, for providing all information on British stations.
You, for sending information about stations from your country.

Gerard Tel, gerard@cs.uu.nl