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Found in the Attic: Unlikely Portables

By Tom Vernon on Dec 28, 2015 12:07:04 PM

Unlikely PortablesThe advent of the transistor made radio a truly put-it-in-your-pocket device. The earlier suitcase radios of the 1940s got radio out of the living room, but weren't really portable by today's standards. The first transistor radios were AM receivers. As the technology improved, short wave bands, and then FM were added to the mix. By the mid-1970s, AM-FM portables of various sizes and styles were ubiquitous. There were also radios with other bands included. These were never hugely popular, but they are still an interesting chapter in the history of portable radios. This Found in the Attic is a twofer, and features the Lafayette Radio Electronics Guardian 11 and the Panasonic RF-1104.

The Guardian 11 dates from 1969. It is a very basic unit powered by four AA cells or a 6-volt AC adapter. At the time, most of the public service/police/fire communications was on the 30-50 Mhz band. These radios were popular with police and fire personnel. Before the coming of cell phones and the Internet, they were the only way to keep track of what was going on. They also provided an endless supply of fresh material for small town gossips.

The times and technologies gradually changed. Much of the emergency communications migrated up to the 144-174 Mhz Public Service Band. Some police and more sensitive communications channels became scrambled. About the same time, scanner technology developed. Now it was possible to monitor all of the VHF high and low band communications channels in a community simultaneously. And the squelch function on scanners meant that you didn't need to listen to white noise or static between calls. The 30-50 Mhz radio with a slide rule dial quickly became obsolete.

The RF-1104 was introduced by Panasonic in 1977 as part of the 'Tech Series', promoted with the slogan 'There's more to our radios than AM/FM'. Four receivers were included: the RF-1108, which included the VHF-high public service bands; the RF-1090 received high and low public service bands, as well as CB; the RF-2200 had six short-wave bands in addition to AM/FM; and finally, our RF-1104 could receive VHF TV audio on 2 bands -VHF low (2-6) and VHF high (7-13). It runs off AC or 4 AA batteries.

Portable radios with TV audio appeared in the stores in the mid-1970s, and were only sold for five years tops. There were portable TVs in 1977, although 'portable' often meant small AC-powered units with a handle on the top. Battery-powered portable TVs were around, although they tended to be large and expensive. Perhaps the brief appearance of these radios had more to do with consumer acceptance than technology. Listening to TV sound without thePanasonic RF-1104 accompanying video is, well, pretty boring most of the time.

Although there are none to be found in the attic, another combination for portables was AM/FM/aviation band. They were often seen at Radio Shack. With one of these, you could listen to commercial airline arrivals, departures and in-flight communications, as well as the unicom channel at small airports. Although forbidden by the airlines and the FAA, radio geeks would occasionally sneak one of these on board and listen to in-flight communications on an earphone. In today’s world of heightened security, trying to bring one of these portables on a plane might not be a good idea.

Both of these radios were purchased many years ago at thrift stores, and are in working condition. The Panasonic is the 'garage radio', for listening while working on the car. The coming of DTV has rendered the VHF TV bands on this radio useless, although they were never used anyway.

Topics: Vintage Electronics


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