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 a circular washing up bowl, pushing 50p coins into a meter to supply gas and watching a 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 our television 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 television for £30.

The 1970s were about knackered secondhand black and white TV’s; the 1980s 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 two 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!



Enjoyed the blog? A nostalgic collection of blogs featuring a fun and factual look back at British advertising, leisure and entertainment from the 70s and 80s are featured in the new hardback book, Section N Underpass. Get the rundown here by clicking the front cover below:


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