Philco 444 "People's Set" Radio (1936)
Dubbed the "People's Set" by its maker, the British Philco Model 444
was designed for economy. Somewhat like the German
was an appliance for the masses, in an age when radio was becoming a true mass medium.
The 444 sold in 1936 for £6 6s, which
equates to roughly £320, or US$520 in today's money.
That may not sound cheap, but most British radios of the time were considerably
more expensive, beyond the reach of many workers.
This is a large, imposing tabletop radio, about the same size as classic
cathedrals such as my Philco 90. The cabinet is
made of Bakelite, however, a material that was cheaper than wood
in 1930s Great Britain.
Everything about this design is distinctive, from the modernistic dial to the
clean, dramatic cabinet lines. Some people claim the cabinet was influenced by the
engine cover of the Volkswagen Beetle, but I believe that both designs were simply a
product of contemporary trends.
As the dial shows, this is a two-band receiver, covering Medium Wave
frequencies from 500-1500 kilocycles and Long Wave from
150-300 kilocycles. Since the MW band corresponds to the greater portion
of the US Standard Broadcast band, the 444 is usable today in America,
although the LW band has no commercial broadcasts nowadays.
My radio's electronics were restored by the previous owner and it works very
nicely. This owner was born in the UK but lived and worked in the US for
The cosmetics of this set are impeccable, with not a mark on the Bakelite
case and no discoloration of the dial face. The white silk moire grille
cloth creates a vivid contrast against the black Bakelite.
The People's Set
Whereas the German Volksempfänger had, in part, an overt propaganda purpose,
the same cannot necessarily be said of the British People's Set. The British Broadcasting Corporation
(BBC) had long fostered the notion that broadcasting should nurture an
informed and educated public, with objectivity as an explicit goal. To further
these aims, what could be better than putting inexpensive radios in the
hands of as many citizens as possible?
Of course, "propaganda" is a slippery concept. In every nation
during the 1930s, government statements were accepted as fact which, in
hindsight, we might call shading the truth, if not outright propaganda.
The main intent behind the People's Set seems to have been benign, however.
Politics aside, the Philco 444 was a commercial success, and a fair number
of them survive to this day. The attractive design, coupled with some
historical interest, makes it a favorite of collectors.
Under the Hood
Tubes were costly items in 1930s England, so a four-tube
radio like the 444 could be sold at a lower price than a more complex set.
The tubes employed
are type 80 (rectifier), 6A7 (oscillator and first detector),
78E (intermediate frequency amplifier), and PENDD61 (second detector,
automatic volume control, and pentode output).
Three of those tubes are well known, but the fourth—the PENDD61—deserves
special mention. It was manufactured especially for this radio and it does
more than one job.
Not surprisingly, given the limited production, working PENDD61 tubes are
scarce and expensive nowadays. Not many tubes fall into this category. One
notable example would be the Wunderlich tube, used only in the US by E.H. Scott and
in an obscure Mission Bell auto radio.
In the chassis rear view, the 80 rectifier tube stands in the middle, bearing
a lick of tape with a handwritten note. To its right is the PENDD61.
The photo shows the radio's electromagnetic type speaker, whose field coil
provides filtering in the power supply. Atop the power transformer at lower
left, you can see a little jumper which can be moved to select either 220-volt
or 120-volt line input. (Some parts of England still had 120-volt service
in those days.)
The blue cylinder peeking from behind the transformer is a modern
electrolytic capacitor, installed by the previous owner. It looks
out of place, so I will replace it with a can-type capacitor that
appears correct for 1936. (Inside that vintage container will be a
new capacitor, of course.)
Here is the Radio Service Bulletin for this radio.
You can also find schematics in the Radio Marketing Service Engineer and in Wireless
Trader Service Sheets.
A Philco 444 was used as the backdrop for an Elvis Costello music
video of the song