FrankenRadio: Bringing a tube Superhet back to life

FrankenRadio: Bringing a tube Superhet back to life

I may work at the world's leading designer and manufacturer of analog and mixed signal semiconductor solutions, but my first love was an old tube radio in my parent's basement. Growing up during the 1960s I would listen to Top-40 AM radio stations from all over the country on this old Philco. (I later had a very brief career as an AM radio disc-jockey, but the story of my misspent youth is for another blog.) Though I later got my Masters in Engineering, my colleagues will attest to my continued love for old wooden and Bakelite radios, as I have more than a few in my cubicle here on the Wilmington campus.

Like many of my fellow antique radio collectors, I always seem to have a few “someday I’ll get to it” radios; the ones we collectors buy, put on a shelf, only to gather dust as other radios get priority. So it was for me with this GE220, a post-war Superhet Bakelite tabletop that I bought for $20 at a flea market many years ago. The fact that the radio was missing its back didn’t trouble me - I liked that it had a shortwave band and was a lot heavier than later, lighter, All American Fives that would soon flood the market. It felt sturdy, almost like manufacturers wanted to assure the American public that our wartime and Depression years of sacrifice were over.

This past summer, after a nice layer of dust had settled on the rig - and with no other radios to work on I took it off the shelf and began with the basics: cleaning the piece (inside and out), a recap and new power cord. Once I had the confidence that the radio powered up safely, I then tackled the challenge of an antenna.

Now the following comment comes from a long-time marketer: it might have been a trend of the times, but GE really went overboard with the brand names. The radio itself was called a “Musaphonic,” (probably an early positioning against upstart FM which would threaten - and eventually conquer - AM radio’s dominance for broadcasting music.) But the marketers at GE went a step further, even giving the loop antenna its own name: “Beam-O-Scope.” Other models, such as the floor-model combination tuner and phonograph H-77, H-78, and H-79, were equipped with the equally impressively named ‘Super Beam-O-Scope.’” (The italics are theirs, from the Rider Manual, Volume 11.) Other models, such as the pre-war tabletop GE L-740, included another grandly named antenna called the De Luxe Beam-O-Scope.

So what is the “Beam-O-Scope?” The GE220 schematic didn’t elaborate, but in the documentation for GE’s H-7x series it explains that: “The ‘Super Beam-O-Scope’ is essentially a tuned coil antenna wound on a frame and shielded by a Faraday screen against electrostatic disturbances” (Again, looks like the battle against no-static FM has already been joined!) But, marketing aside, this left me without an antenna - one that, as seen in the schematic below, was more than just a few loops of wire; it also included a “pick-up” loop for an external antenna that required a 470 Ω resistor and .002 µF capacitor in series. Furthermore L1, the built-in broadcast antenna (the heart of the Beam-O-Scope) also had a 1.5 – 15pF variable cap in parallel.

The loop antenna is critical, since it is part of the first tuned circuit in the radio (feeding the grid of the 12SK7 RF Amp.) If I were to create a replacement I would have to get within the right range of inductance required for the tuned circuit. Further complicating the task was that there were only four wires coming from the radio, three from under the chassis and one off a variable cap that was tied to the ganged capacitor of the RF detector stage.  While researching for other GE220 owners I found this old thread on the forum, one that had been started by another collector with a GE220 and the same issue – no Beam-O-Scope antenna and four wires coming from the radio. The thread included photos of working rigs and one with a list, wire-by-wire, of the five connections from the radio required to the antenna to complete the RF detector circuit.

Unable to find someone with an existing Beam-O-Scope to sell, I resigned myself to having to build a replica from scratch. But then I remembered that a few months earlier, at the New England Antique Radio Club spring flea market, I had spent $5 on this Philco E-808:

Philco E808-5


“Worth five bucks,” I told myself. “It’s not that nice-looking but I can use it for parts.”  When I went to the shelf I was happy to see that the Philco's loop antenna was there.  A quick check with an ohmmeter showed the loop was unbroken (that would have been a bummer) so I began the process of converting it into a Beam-O-Scope.

From a picture posted on the thread I counted 25 loops of wire on the Beam-O-Scope. Now, we all know there’s a whole lot of math that goes into the design of a loop so it will collect RF within the broadcast band and at just the right level to feed the grid of RF Amp (in this case a 12SK7.) That math includes many variables, including the number of loops, the width and permeability of the wire and the size of the space in the middle, just to name a few. But, with all due respect to the designer of the “Beam-O-Scope” and associated circuitry- this isn’t rocket science, and I banked that the tolerances were pretty wide and that the 12SK7 would accept signal in a range that the Philco loop, although smaller than the GE’s Beam-O-Scope, would provide.  The picture below shows the Philco antenna soon after the conversion was started, showing the .005uF fixed and 5-15pf variable caps and 470 ohm resistor and connecting lugs that I added.  I then laid a single loop of wire around the outside of the main antenna for the pickup loop.

That left just one more connection to be made: that missing fifth wire from the chassis, which the schematic showed going to the side of the main loop with the junction of the 5 – 15pf variable and C1-A (one of the three sets of ganged capacitors in the tuning section.)

I found it interesting that the person who wrote the original post on that forum had a radio that was also missing the fifth connecting wire. A design or manufacturing flaw, perhaps, that induced the wire to come loose?  Whatever the reason, it was a simple matter to trace the AVC (Automatic Volume Control) line in the radio, finding what looked like the connecting point, and securing a wire there and to the main loop of the hybrid Beam-O-Scope I had created.

What a treat to have it work the first time, as you can hear and see in this YouTube clip:  The re-assembled radio now sits in a more public place, on a shelf upstairs in the house. I cannot walk past it without feeling a bit of pride, having channeled Dr. Frankenstein to produce a working radio from the parts of two. It’s ALIVE!

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