The No 19 set

The No 19 set was the standard radio transmitter/receiver set used by the British Army throughout the Second World War. Rugged and reliable, no thought whatsoever had been given to its aesthetics - or even ergonomics - and its appearance was agricultural to say the least. Dominated by two large circular tuning dials rotated by large square knobs, the front panel was littered with switches and knobs of differing styles and sizes whose action was very clunky.

When I can find a picture of one, I'll put it up here but you can see one here.

The Navy's standard issue radio receiver, the B40, was in complete contrast to the No 19 set and was a work of art. Its striking pale green front panel was made of thick cast aluminium, with an enormous black paddle on the right to select one of the five wavebands it tuned through. Five illuminated tuning scales were arranged one above the other in a semi-circular 'bulge' that rose from the large tuning knob at the bottom all the way to the top of the set, looking vaguely like the glass-fronted stairwells popular in upmarket 1930's mansions.

Bandswitching was achieved by rotating a large drum containing all the coils for the various wavebands, with the wiring for each coil being brought out to contacts arranged around the periphery of the drum, such that the coils for a given band would make contact against a set of fixed spring-loaded plungers and thus be connected into the circuits. The drum was rotated by the large paddle knob, via a chain and sprocket drive similar to a bicycle's. (The idea was revived much later in the mid-1950s when the coming of ITV transmissions on Band III meant TV sets had to be able to tune to both Band I for BBC and Band III - most sets released from 1955 onwards used 'turret tuners' where the coil sets for 12 or even 13 channels could be fitted to a small drum about 2" in diameter and 4" long. The drum was rotated by the viewer to select the channel - viewers in the London area for example would select channel 1 for BBC and 9 for ITV. The coil sets were mounted on brown plastic holders, affectionately known in the TV trade as 'biscuits'.)

The whole thing wasn't very big - about 18 inches high by 13" wide - but it was built like a battleship and weighed 114 lbs (52 kg). Inside, it had a tool kit complete with spanners, screwdrivers and special wrenches - all for maintaining the elaborate mechanicals. Some radio - it was manufactured for the Admiralty by Murphy in Welwyn Garden City and each one cost 800, an awful lot of money in 1940. I bought mine in 1972 for 22.50 in a government surplus shop in London's Edgware Road. I don't have a photo of this set either but you can visit Ray Robinson's excellent site where you'll find a good example plus and detailed article on the B40 series. There's also a lot of other receivers at this virtual radio museum

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Andy Thomas, August 9th, 1998

Last updated: July 18th, 2000