Sunday, December 15, 2013


In the 60s,the 70s and the 80s non resident Indians coming from Gulf countries used to bring portable transistor radios, radio cum cassette recorders popularly known as two-in-ones,  pocket radios and so on to the envy of the local residents for whom such gadgets were a luxury owing to their short supply in the regular shops and high price. It was a common sight, at airports, railway stations and bus stands in this part of the country, to see the ‘Gulfees’ carrying these sets ‘naked’  by their handles with their cartons/covers removed to display their proud possessions in front of the onlookers covetously eyeing them. A variety of such sets in different colours, sizes and shapes, with and without leather covers, stereos and monos, with double, single, and more than double speakers were common. Many of these sets used to be available for sale within a couple of months of their arrival as many NRIs sold them off at the time of their departure to make a quick buck. The grey market also used to be very active dealing in electronics, watches, pens, perfumes, suitcases and so on. Displaying a formidable looking foreign ‘Two-in One’ in the drawing room was considered by many as a status symbol!

The most popular brand of music players was NATIONAL,(Pronounced by a section as Nasenal) made and marketed by Mitsushita Electric Industrial Co., Japan, which later became Panasonic Corporation and their products appeared as National, National Panasonic , Panasonic and Technics. Other brands were Soni, Hitachi, Sharp, Toshiba, Akai, Philips and so on. Originally all these brands were ‘Made in Japan’only; but later they were made in other countries also including India and China. I had a Sharp compact recorder purchased in Bangalore in 1971 but I don’t know where it is now. A similar looking National Panasonic cassette recorder(made in Japan)purchased around the same period is still with me in good working condition. Both cost  around Rs.800/-each  those days. In early 1970s BUSH introduced a similar compact cassette recorder in India costing around Rs.900/- along with the famous  and popular transistor radio  Bush Baron.  But the Bush model of cassette recorder was no match for the National cassette recorders in quality and price. My efforts to get the very popular Bush Baron radio set of the late 60s repaired were in vain. But the Philips Victor  radio of 1970 which used to be kept on throughout the day during cricket matches is still working! The small Philips pocket radio used for hearing  cricket commentary is still used during power cuts as well as while sitting in one corner of the terrace to be away from the T.V. and to be in the company of oneself!  Yes, the tiny  BPL Stereo Walkman cassette player and another similar one of the 90s are still there evoking  nostalgia.

National Rx 5235
The provocation for this post is the radio cassette recorder the photo of which is shown at the beginning of the post and alongside; a ‘NATIONAL TWO-WAY 4 SPEAKER STEREO RADIO CASSETTE RECORDER MODEL Rx.5235’. It was originally purchased by a friend from my childhood days and classmate too in the school, sometime during  the early 70s from an NRI for about Rs.4000/- if my memory is correct. He had used it for years and had kept it aside, uncared for, unable to get some repairs done. But I could, through my contacts, bring it sparklingly back to great working condition. In fact its radio section required only minor attention.. The  problem was with its cassette deck as spares like belt, wheels, pinch rollers and a few other parts could not be obtained. But with a lot of search, follow-up and contacts a few of them were collected and the rest by my friendly repairer by ‘cannibalising’ on an old hopeless set kept by him for the purpose! Luckily the recording / playback head was still in good condition. The result, after some serious cleaning and polishing, is a set as good looking and performing as a new set. The thrill of getting it back to work from a dilapidated and unpromising condition was so great that I decided to put it on record. What is amazing about this more than 40 years old set is its powerful hi-fi sound quality coming through the 4 way speakers especially while playing the radio with its high gain tuner  with an FM band. Remember FM band was widely in use abroad even in the 70s whereas for us it is a more recent experience.The fine tuning knob helps in locating and stabilizing SW stations from the crowded SW1 and SW2 bands.The long telescopic antenna also helps. It is indeed a delightful nostalgic experience to listen to Purani Geet and Aap ki Farmaish  on Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corpn’s Videsh Vibhag in the morning  and Vividh Bharati on the set. How many radio sets of today can boast of clear reception of short wave stations leave alone Radio Ceylon’s Videsh Vibhag?.Of course, it does’nt matter either as very few are nowadays interested in listening to short wave broadcasts! The cassette deck is now working well and the special auto reverse mechanism, a rare feature those days,  enhances the convenience  of the set. No wonder people, especially music lovers world wide still prefer  a genuine ‘Made in Japan’ product over others. A Panasonic or Soni equipment made in Japan commands a higher price than their own similar sets made in Singapore or India. The National Rx.5235 is a typical old ‘Gulfee’ set by its looks, performance and price. It still commands an astronomical price on the net!
Aftron BoomBox
There were many Indian and foreign brands manufactured in India like Murphy, Nelco, HMV, Philips, BPl/Sanyo, Bush/Akai, Videocon/Toshiba, Telefunken/Grundig and so son. We had also a very popular local brand of transistor sets. viz., KELTRON. Their sets, Keltron Kamal and Keltron Kranti, were noted for good performance . The tiny Kamal set bought in 1983/84 , still used by me, lends credence to this. But over the years, with the revolution  in electronic/music industry and change in people’s listening habits these once wonderful products have faded from even the memory of many. Philips, Panasonic, Soni, etc. are still marketing  small radios on a limited scale targeting old timers. A few major manufacturers like Toshiba, JVC etc. and others  also marketing  All-in-One sets like, for example, AFTRON BOOM BOX and NIPPOTEC  Rechargeable radio cum CARD/USB player.The Boombox is a Radio cum DVD/MP3/VCD/CD/USB/MMC /Cassette player! But I really do not think that devices like the small transistor radios, two-in-ones etc. will make a comeback even though  the surge being made by record players and vinyl records worldwide in recent years does evoke a faint ray of hope. What is disheartening for the  enthusiasts is the sight, at repair shops and service centres, of dusty heaps of tiny radios, amplifiers, cassette decks and  a variety of other old equipments which once occupied a prominent space in the drawing rooms of the owners, lying uncared for. Owners’ apathy,  repairers’reluctance/resistance to spend time on them and difficulty in getting spares have, regrettably, made them  a part of the bulging global electronics waste.

Tail piece:- What is an useful method of maintaining old equipments? Well,  use them as often as possible.

1 comment:

R.V.KRISHNAN said...

Had a hitachi tape recorder. Awesome times