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Radio Rentals: can’t afford to buy

WHILST listening to Radio 2, host Chris Evans quickly interviewed a vintage radio restorer. The restorer, a very knowledgeable gentleman, briefly explained the history of Radio Rentals (started out renting radios and eventually became popular for renting TV’s and video recorders on the UK high street in the 70s and 80s).

So Radio Rentals began around 1930 in a small shop. By 1936 radios had become more popular and more people rented radios from them. The weekly cost of renting a radio back then was 1 shilling 9 pence a week. Chris asked Mr Radio Restorer why people just didn’t buy the radios outright instead of renting. Mr Radio Restorer explained that many could not afford to buy a radio outright in those days. A radio would cost around £30 to buy outright (20 shillings = £1). The average weekly wage in 1936 was 40 shillings 9 pence.



The conversation between Chris and Mr Radio Restorer struck a chord with me. The mere mention of Radio Rentals and Chris’ logical question made me consider my early years.

I come from a family of six. Growing up in the 70s was having a wash in the in a bowl (like a circular washing up bowl), pushing 50p coins into a meter to supply gas and bulky black and white TV’s. Our TV’s were never brand new, always second-hand. The lifespan of the TV’s was about 12 months. My dad knew a chap called Zaki who’d supply us with half dead black and white TV’s. Zaki was also the guy that repaired the TV’s when random black lines started running horizontally down the screen. We saw a awful lot of Zaki in our household and I still have memories of him saying ‘That will be 5 pounds to fix’ or ‘I’ll get you another TV for £30’.

The 70s were about knackered secondhand black and white TV’s. The 80s were about the upgrade a colour TV. We stayed loyal to Zaki and he supplied us with knackered colour TV’s. Moving to colour was a huge step change for us but there was a bigger leap about to land. The video recorder was on the scene and they were expensive. Some came with a remote control … a wire connecting the remote control to the video recorder. There were 2 main models, the top loading (clunky) or the slightly more smooth front loading. The video recorder had arrived but they were expensive.

Step in Radio Rentals! Mum decided to rent a video recorder. It arrived and the whole household was excited with this new technology. We enjoyed going to the video shop to rent the latest overpriced film, slotting it into the video recorder, then left disappointed when the viewing quality had us squinting. Anyway after renting the video recorder for a couple of years, (and I began to understand the real concept of money), I asked mum how much it costs to rent the machine. After she’d told me, with my very basic maths and knowledge of current selling prices, I calculated that we could have bought almost 2 video recorders with the amount we’d splashed out to date. Why, why, why?

A few years later the reason why came to me. Basically we could not afford to buy outright at the time. We could manage a monthly payment to rent, but to buy outright, no chance! So during the interview when Chris asked the question, I knew straight away what the answer would be from Mr Radio Restorer.



Things are slightly different these days – electronic equipment is much more affordable for many. We tend to have the financial power to buy things outright. With the help of Miss Visa & Mr MasterCard things are pretty simple. Radio Rentals are no longer on our high street. Were Radio Rentals ripping us off? Not really – just one of the basic principals of business … supply the customer with something they need, do it well and make a profit. On that note I’m off to watch the Simpsons in glorious colour on our fully paid off, flat screen, full HD TV … not purchased from Zaki!



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33, 45 or 78 rpm?

THE RETRO spotting continues!

During a stroll into town last week, my wife clocked the ‘Back to the Future’ DVD trilogy in a shop window. Twelve months earlier I confessed that I’d never watched any of the Back to the Future films. After receiving a look of ‘Have you been living on another planet?’ she vowed to introduce me to the time travelling movies.

As we stepped into the shop I realised that not only DVD’s were on sale, but Vinyl records too … lots and lots of them! I shuffled through the layers of vinyl … many of them brought  back memories of flipping tunes on the turntable during my early years.



The years rolled back even further when I noticed the vast collection of 7 inch vinyl! Now this is real retro! My dad had quite a collection of 7 inch records which he played on the automatic record player. Once on the tune started pumping out, he’d kick back and bob his head whilst downing White Rum in true Jamaican style.




I explained to my wife that some of the 7 inch records had to have an adapter fitted in order for them to play on the turntable (I think she understood).

The next retro lesson was about the workings of the automatic turntables. I explained how you had to load the record at the top of a pole. Then the speed of the record needs to be selected  – 45, 33 or 78rpm. You’d then hit the start switch and the turntable would spin, the record would drop down the pole into position, the needle flies through the air and lands at the start of the record and after the initial crackle the tune pumps out the speakers.

I was clear that she did not quite understand what I meant but luckily the owner of the shop, Dave, came to my rescue. ‘I have something that will interest you‘ and less than a minute later he revealed a retro automatic record player!

I asked if it was still working. ‘Yeah … just takes a bit of time to warm up‘. Two minutes later a record was spinning around of the turntable. More importantly my wife actually witnessed record player automatically loading the vinyl (always good to have proof or else she’d really think I’d lived on another planet).




The record played. I watched in awe as memories of the record player in our house in London came flooding back (1974 ish – real retro)

I don’t ever remember playing a record at 78‘.

Nah … most records play at either 45 or 33 … some of the records in the 50s played at 78‘.


Short and to the point.

45rpm … mmm. These were mainly for the 7 inch records. I recall that many of the 7 inch records (especially the reggae tunes cut in Kingston, Jamaica) had the main track on the ‘A’ side and the ‘B’ side contained the version … the track without the vocals.

33rpm … LP (Long Play) – that’s the albums or 12 inch tracks – the slow players – the big records usually containing a number of tracks. Back in the day, I had the record ‘Space Invaders’ by Yellow Magic – the record was actually Yellow! (geeky fact only appreciated by retro geeks living in the past).

78rpm … nothing … I don’t ever recall having any 78s. 78s were useful if you wanted to play a cryptic game of ‘Name that Tune’ or had some vinyl from the 50s I guess.

So another week down and the tank is full again after taking in more retro fumes. Check out the photos. Do you remember? Do they jerk your memory back to the days when you dashed into the record shop to pick up the latest baddest tune? If so then its clear that you know the difference between your 78s, 45s and 33s.