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Widget Of The Week

Pye Q6 Two-Band AM Radio, 1961

In just about every restoration project there comes a time when you have to ask why on earth am I doing this? Despair often sets in soon after work has begun, or at around the halfway point, when it seems like it will never get finished. This Pye Q6 Medium and Long wave band radio felt like a disaster from the get go, shortly after I managed to prise off the back panel and saw the mess created by an old and leaky PP9 battery.

 

You have to believe you’ll get there in the end and ultimately it was worth the time and effort to bring this 8-transistor receiver back to life. It’s not especially rare or unusual but it was a something of a classic and marked the end of an era. It was made in the early sixties by Pye, then a venerable and very well known British company, but nowadays all but forgotten. This model was affordable and the no-frills spec, traditional shape and styling wouldn’t scare the middle-aged consumers it was aimed at. There was just a touch of modernity, though, with some bright red trim, and it used transistors, which was, at the time, still a relatively recent innovation. Above all it did everything a small portable medium and long wave radio was required to do, namely tune in the three major BBC radio stations that virtually everyone in Britain listened to, namely The Light Programme (now Radio 2), The Home Service (Radio 4) and The Third Programme (Radio 3). 

 

The quality of workmanship is clear to see when the back cover is removed. The case frame is made of aluminium and it is a fair bet that construction techniques, materials and components owe a lot to Pye’s involvement in building radios for the British Army. The main circuit board is clearly hand-assembled, though this is a mixed blessing. Early germanium transistors were notoriously fragile and didn’t take kindly to prolonged exposure to heat. To reduce the risk of damage during soldering the leads were left excessively long, which meant most of the transistors stood high above the printed circuit board and therefore vulnerable to clumsy fingers poking around inside the case. To make matters worse the two audio output transistors were fitted with large metal heat sinks. They were not attached to anything, which left them flapping around with the fine wires liable to bend, weaken and eventually fracture with every hard jolt. And one of them did, but we’ll come back to that shortly.

 

The effects of the leaky battery were not evident when I discovered this Q6 at a Dorset car boot sale. From the outside it just looked like a tatty old radio. Since it wasn’t possible to remove the back I took the stallholder’s word that it was in good working order and, so he said, well worth the fiver he was asking for it. He also assured me that it dated form the 1930s. I helpfully pointed to the ‘transistor’ logo on the front, and apprised him of the fact that transistors didn’t go into production until the early 1950s. This did not help the negotiations and I judged that any further smart-arse remarks would only result in the price going up…  

 

Needless to say the stallholder had also been a bit economical with the truth about it working. At a conservative estimate the battery had been festering away inside the case for at least 20 years. It also goes without saying that battery juice and aluminium is not a happy combination and once I removed the remains of the ancient PP9 the damage it had done became horribly clear. The worst casualty was the battery holder clip; all that remained was a thin piece of crusty, corroded metal. Fortunately it was easy to replicate; there was also a fair amount of corrosion on a case bracket used to hold the plastic back panel in place. Enough metal remained, just, for it not to need replacing, which was just as well as it is a complex shape, and riveted to the case. Even after a thorough clean up it’s not a pretty sight, but it does the job. There was also some drip damage in the bottom of the case but by the time the acid had got to it, it must have lost its potency and it cleaned up fairly well. It had also got on to the base of the back panel but apart from some discolouration it too escaped serious damage. The battery clips had dissolved but I had some modern replacements in the parts box. The only good news was that the circuit board and controls are all mounted at the top of the case, and the battery clip had taken the brunt of the leakage and acted as a protective shield, stopping any corrosive gunge getting on to the ferrite antenna and its metal clips below.

 

The last clean up job before powering it up was to remove the dried out debris from the old battery and the accumulated dust, fluff and dead spiders of the past 50 or so years. This is when I discovered the damaged output transistor. Two of the three wires had broken off at the base of the transistor’s case (a Newmarket flat can type), which is arguably the worst possible place. Only around half a millimetre of the broken wires were still exposed, which was just about enough to wrap a fine wire and solder it in place. However there is considerable risk of damaging the internal structure, as there is nowhere else for the heat to go. It had to be done quickly, in less than a second; even then there is a high chance of being destroyed. I checked the transistor to make sure it was still okay. It was, so after cleaning the wire stubs with a scalpel the new wires were fitted and soldered, and it actually worked! In truth it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if it hadn’t succeeded, replacements are easy enough to find, but it is still very satisfying to repair vintage components.

 

Once it was working the outside case could be cleaned up and some minor cosmetic damage attended to. This included the red flock band around the metal chassis. It needed replacing but flock material is surprisingly difficult to find, and alarmingly expensive for the small amount that I needed. My solution was rub off the flock with wire wool, which had become dull and patchy, back to the woven vinyl backing, and spray it red. If and when I manage to find a small piece of red flock I will replace it but for the time being the red vinyl doesn’t look half bad.

 

Performance is probably as good as it ever was, thanks to the large and nicely supple speaker. In spite of the metal case it manages to pick up all available stations without the need for an external aerial and there’s plenty of volume on tap. In short it is still a very useable little radio, provided you don’t mind the limitations of the largely deserted AM broadcast bands.

 

What Happened To It?

Pye was one of Britain’s oldest technology brands, being founded in Cambridge in1896 by Mr William Pye as a part-time enterprise, to manufacture scientific instruments. During World War One Pye turned his hand to the then new thermionic valve. This eventually led to the small but fast growing company developing radio receivers in time for the inaugural broadcasts of the BBC, in 1922. Pye were also in at the beginning of the BBC’s first television test transmissions. By 1937 it was producing its first commercial TV, with a 5-inch screen. During the Second World War Pye turned over a lot of its production to military communications systems and radar components. At the end of the war production of television sets resumed and in1956 they announced the first British-made transistor, produced by its Newmarket subsidiary. Pye’s first all-transistor radio, the Pam 710 followed soon after.

 

Pye diversified into broadcast equipment, including TV cameras for the BBC, but by the early sixties the domestic radio and TV divisions were going into decline. Intense competition from the Far East was starting to take its toll, especially in the rapidly growing youth market, which Pye failed to see coming. It continued to turn out large old-fashioned, family-friendly sets, like the Q6 whilst companies in Japan and Hong Kong went into overdrive making cheap pocket size portables, ideal for listening to pirate stations and eventually the BBC’s newly minted Radio One pop station. Dutch electronics giant Philips had been trying to purchase Pye for some time and in 1966 they managed to acquire a 60 percent share. A decade later they took complete ownership of the Pye group of companies and its last remaining TV factory in Lowestoft was sold to Sanyo.       

 

Today the Pye brand is just a distant memory. It pops up now and again on some rather ordinary home entertainment devices made in the far East, but sadly, surviving products -- especially those from  its final years -- have little or no interest to collectors. Traditionally styled radios like this Q6 often sell for significantly less than comparable radios from the same era. This one started out as a wreck and although it is now in good working order and reasonably presentable, it is probably only worth £10 - £15. Clean ones do not seem to fare much better and the few I have followed on ebay rarely edge much above £20 - £25. In time prices might improve a little but when it comes to small to medium-sized British-made tabletop portable radios it will always be overshadowed by better-known brands, like Hacker and Roberts.


First Seen:           1961

Original Price:     £10,17s 6d (£10.75)

Value Today:       £15.00 (1018)

Features              8-transistor superhetrodyne AM receiver, Medium & Long wave coverage, rotary tuning, wave change & volume on/off controls, ferrite antenna, 110mm speaker, external aerial socket, carry handle

Power req.                     1 x PP9 9 volt battery

Dimensions:                   250 x 190 x 90mm

Weight:                          1.8kg

Made (assembled) in:     England

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest)    7



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