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Widget Of The Week

Dansette Richmond MW/LW Radio, 1967

In the same way that Hoover became the generic name for vacuum cleaners, for a short while, during the nineteen fifties and sixties, the British company Dansette became a household name and a byword for portable record players. Typically they were chunky, brightly coloured, leatherette covered boxes, fitted with the infamous BSR autochanger, and at the risk of annoying their many fans, they mostly sounded pretty dreadful and were notorious for destroying records, but it wasn’t the only product that Dansette made, or at least, put their badge on.

 

The company’s other less well-known speciality was portable radios and there were several types including some classic early transistor models, initially designed and built in Britain. Production eventually moved India and finally ended up in Hong Kong. The Richmond is from the latter group, a dual-band (MW/LW) 8-transistor ‘Empire Made’ receiver and one of the last of the line as by the late sixties Dansette was in steep decline, ironically due to fierce competition from cheap far eastern products

 

The Richmond is one of several models named after English towns (others include Dorchester, Hendon, Medway Oxford and Stanmore) but that is arguably the only connection it has with Britain and it is virtually indistinguishable from countless other small two band radios coming out of Hong Kong at the time. I suspect Dansette’s design input didn’t go much beyond deciding on the colour and position of the badge. In short the only feature of note is the name, but don’t let that put you off, these little radios played their part in the cultural revolution, that led directly to personal stereos and digital media players. The Richmond’s role in this revolution would have been fairly minor, though, they never sold in the same sort of numbers as the record players, but the British connection and English sounding name was a clever marketing ploy and would have proved comforting to concerned parents, and those resistant to buying ‘foreign’ products (though they would have had to be fairly short sighted to miss the ‘Empire Made’ and Hong Kong markings on the box. 

 

There are no especially novel features, though the tuning mechanism is a little unusual on a radio of this type. Most small radios have a simple dial, directly linked to the tuning capacitor but the Richmond has a proper linear scale and moving indicator. There are only two other controls, an on/off volume thumbwheel on the top and a two-position slide switch on the back for selecting Long or Medium wave bands. There’s also a 3.5mm mono jack socket on the side for an earphone and as usual it is switched, so plugging in the earpiece disengages the speaker. It is powered by four 1.5-volt AA cells, which live in a removable holder that sits in the bottom of the case. The circuit board has been hand assembled and in the scheme of things, it is reasonably well made. Supplied accessories include leather slip case and strap and a small plastic pouch for the earphone.

 

This one was a boot sale find and several things caught my eye, including the Dansette name, the condition – it’s exceptionally good – the original box, and the price, it was just 50 pence! For that money I didn’t mind if it worked or not, though I needn’t have worried, it actually came with a set of batteries and I was able to do an on the spot test. Apart from the usual volume control crackle – easily fixed with a squirt of contact cleaner – everything worked, and following a quick wipe over with some furniture polish you would hardly believe it was getting on for 50 years old.

 

What Happened To It?

Dansette was a relatively recent and short-lived brand. It was set up in 1952 by J. A. Margolin, a wel established family firm of cabinet makers and importers of musical instruments that had previously dabbled in the manufacture of radiograms in the 1940s. The first Dansette badged record players appeared the year the brand was registered and the business thrived up until the mid 1960s. However, in spite of the introduction of portable radios and even one mildly successful car radio, it failed to keep up with rapid changes in the music industry, from 45rpm singles to LPs, the growing popularity of the compact cassette, and demand for better sound quality.

 

The company finally went into liquidation in 1969 but the name, and the record players lives on with a thriving band of enthusiasts and collectors, now happy to pay some eye-watering prices for clean, working examples. The market for vintage Dansette radios is much less well developed and as this one shows, it is possible to find some real bargains. For what it is worth, I would seek out the more interesting early British made models, rather that later and, in my view, blander Far Easter models like the Richmond, though if you come across another one for 50 pence it has to be worth a punt.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen               1967

Original Price         £10?

Value Today           £5  (1014)

Features                 Dual band (MW/LW), 8-transistor superhetrodyne tuner, 50mm speaker, on/off volume & tuning controls, 3.5mm mono switched earphone socket

Power req.                    4 x 1.5 volt AA cells

Dimensions:                  150 x 96 x 41mm 

Weight:                         300g

Made (assembled) in:    Hong Kong (Empire Made)

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


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