1937 RCA Canada 816K Console Radio - Magic Brain, Eye, &Voice

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Superb 1937 High-End 16-Tube All-Wave Console Radio with Magic Brain, Magic Eye, Magic Voice, all Metal Tubes, Motor Tuning and Optional Remote Control, designed by John Vassos, from original and only Owner

In a Nutshell
Here is the Canadian version of the venerable RCA 816K Console, the first high-end radio console with the three Magics: Brain, Eye and Voice. A 16-Tube 7-Band All-Wave Radio from 1937 with Motor Tuning and Optional "Armchair" Remote Control, RCA's answer to Zenith's Stratosphere

In the beginning was the "Magic Brain" - and the magic brain was with the 1934/35 luxury models of RCA enthusiastically announced as follows:

"Inside RCA Victor all-wave sets is an uncanny governing unit - ... Human in its thinking, we compare it to the human brain. You choose the broadcast - from no matter where in the whole world. Then, watchman-like, it keeps out undesired radio signals. It concentrates on that one and makes it four times stronger. Each tone has higher-fidelity ... in a quality of reception heretofore unequalled"

Technically speaking it is the combination of RF, local oscillator, and mixer stages, for which originally two tubes (6D6 and 6A7) and one year later the 3 new metal tubes (6K7, 6J7, 6L7) were used, particularly for the higher end all-wave receivers where the separation of mixer and oscillator improved performance especially for short wave reception. In 1936 RCA also introduced the "Magic Eye" (type 6E5) tube for their higher-end consoles, a tube facilitating precise tuning and being too big to be used for table models. "Magic Eye" became later a synonyme for all tuning indicators, independent of manufacturer. The "Magic Voice" sound system was added in 1936/37, the "Magic Loop" around 1940, and later there were even a "Magic Wave" antenna and a "Magic Key" preset station system. Magic Voice is a pioneering loudspeaker environment: The lower part of the cabinet with the 12" speaker is sealed by a thick wooden plate, wity 5 open cylinders at the bottom, which gives the radio its famous bass response (pict.s 17-20). The RCA 9K-1 console introduced in late 1935, had all three of the first magics - brain, eye and voice. On May 19, 1937 the top-of-the-line console 816K was introduced, with two new features: motor tuning ("press a button - there's your station") and an optional wired remote control, called the "Armchair Control". Although 15 times more common (total number made 5159) and 3 times cheaper at the time ($250), obviously RCA's answer to the famous 1936 Zenith Stratosphere. An enthusiastic restoration report by Chuck Dachis of a RCA 816-K can be found in ref.1 below. The cabinet has been designed by RCA's chief designer John Vassos [1898-1985], who also created the Magic Brain poster (pict.37 left), as well as in the late 1930's, the cabinet for RCA's first post-war TV set 621TS. Many of the design ideas have been propagated to the HF-series (HF-2,4,6,8) of High Fidelity Consoles of the following year 1938, which are rarer, but less collectible.

Additional information:
1. http://www.hallicraftercollector.com/articles/816k_article_page_1.htm
2. http://catskillkid.tripod.com/radio/rcahtml1.htm
3. http://www.nostalgiaair.org/PagesByModel/155/M0015155.pdf

About my radio:

The console was built in 1937/38, as RCA's top-of-the-line 16-tube set, using several unique construction details:
  •  3-tube RF stage (magic brain)
  •  Newly developed metal tubes (avoiding separate tube shields), all authentic
  •  Newly for this radio developed 6E5=6G5 magic eye tube
  •  Strong push-pull 2x6L6 with 6F6 driver 30W audio stage
  •  Very pretty 7-band reverse painted, stationized, and illuminated glass dial with vernier tuning
  •  Huge 12" field coil speaker, sealed in closed volume (magic voice)
  •  Motorized 8 push-button preset station tuning (electric tuning)
  •  Optional Armchair (wired remote) Control. Original receptacle with replacement cable control unit

I bought the radio from the original and only owner (see pict.33, upper right), who could not keep it in his nursing home, where it was the centerpiece of the common dining room, enjoyed and used by all the residents. The motor tuning was not working anymore, and the owner told me he could not recall that the radio ever had the remote armchair control, although it is obviously equipped with its cable receptacle. After restoration the console is in near mint and working condition. The cabinet has the original finish with a few unoffending scratches, and a minor wood damage near the upper right of the dial, best seen in pict.12. The tenite dial frame had a stress crack on its upper right corner, caused by what tenite is always doing, shrinking. It has been repaired and cannot be seen in any of the pictures. The speaker cloth is original, as well as all knobs, push-buttons etc., and all decals. The set has been thoroughly cleaned and in-depth serviced. All wax paper condensors and the filter condensors have been replaced when necessary and all moving parts treated with contact spray. The motor tuning gear has been repaired as well. The 6E5/6G5 magic eye tube has been replaced by a new very bright (NOS) one. The radio plays loud and clear on AM/BC (see movie by clicking on last picture), where it has good sensitivity and selectivity over the whole band spread. Short-wave reception is working for all bands, the number of stations received mainly dependent on a proper antenna design. The sound is extremely sonore due to the magic voice technology. It is well balanced in "full fidelity" mode (pict.14). Presetting stations with the help of the included key and motor tuning work flawlessly, as well as the reinvented remote control, the cable of which is connected via a tube cased plug into the original receptacle. The phono input works too and can be used to connect other modern audio equipment to be amplified to 30 Watts. A very detailed 8-page documentation by John F. Rider is freely available through nostalgiaair.org (ref.3). Please e-mail me (Kris) for any questions, ich spreche Deutsch, je parle Fran├žais.

For the techies only:
Electric station tuning and its remote operation for this radio are essentially done mechanically. A motor (pict.27) connects via gears (pict.28) to the shaft of the tuning condensor, and is started by one of 8 push-button activated contacts (for remote operation these contacts are duplicated in the remote box, connected through a 9-strand cable). The motor's electrical circuit is closed by one of 8 corresponding brass disks, mounted on the same tuning shaft (pict.29). These disks each have one insulating gap along their circumference, causing the electrical circuit to be interrupted, once this gap reaches a fixed contact tongue, thus stopping the tuning motor. If the motor is not stopped before the condensor reaches one of its end positions, it is reversed by a switch. When activated the motor's rotor moves axially into the stator and shorts the 6F6 audio driver tube grid, muting the radio during station changing. Turning the dial manually when in electric or remote tuning mode, causes the radio automatically searching for the next preprogrammed station. Preprogramming is done with the help of a key (pict.s 29,42), that when inserted fixes the corresponding disk at its interrupt position while manually searching for the station to preset.

Here are the specifications:

Technical Description of Item
Manufacturer RCA Victor Co. Ltd., Montreal, Canada
Model 816K
Type 16-tube 7-band console radio with motor tuning
Production Year 1937
Serial Number 224, chassis 1278, total number made: 5159
Cabinet 7-tone wood
Dial Illuminated curved double glass dial for 7 bands, tenite frame, 8 push-buttons
Knobs 7 bakelite knobs
Frequency Range BC 530-1720 kHz, MW 2.4-7.1 MHz, SW 7.1-22 MHz, 49m, 31m, 25m, 19m spread bands
Controls On/off/tone, volume, coarse and fine tuning, band switch, mode, fidelity, 8 push-buttons, 6E5 M.Eye
Tube line-up 2x5T4(Rect),4x6K7(IF,RF),2x6J7(Osc),6L7(1.Det),2x6H6(1.Det,AVC),6C5(1.Au),6F6,2x6L6(Au)6E5(M.Eye)
Size (WxDxH) 30" x 18" x 43"
Weight 150 lbs = 68 kg
Comment Near mint condition, serviced and perfectly working

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