Saturday, July 26, 2014

They used to do heirloom design right - Wards Airline Radio

My dad recently procured for me a 1937 Wards Airline Radio, model 62-476. This particular radio has a Bakelite body with a nice art-deco-y look. It has also been sitting in someone's attic for *years*.

Cute, right? I thought hey, at least it'll make a nice decoration. For one, it's missing an antenna, though the leads are available:

But I'm sure it wouldn't work. I wonder what it says on the bottom so I can look it up...

... WHAT. That's a full diagram of the parts inside? With part numbers for EVERYTHING? So it can be EASILY FIXED?!? WHAT IS THIS MAGIC.

I wonder what will happen if I plug it in and turn it on.

WHAT. Magic eye tube (green above the dial) isn't on, there's no antenna... but it's from 1937 and I can hear static. Just barely, but it's there! If I want I can try fixing it myself or take it to someone who knows something about old radios and they'll show me how. There's a friggin' parts list. And a diagram.

Now, imagine it's 2091 and someone tries to get your iPhone to work. Or your Kindle. Or your TV. Or... well, fill in the blank. Laughable, right? We used to think of things so differently. You didn't throw something out when it didn't work because it was cheaper to replace it; we fixed it. Even now it only *seems* cheaper to replace things because they are built somewhere where wages are much lower than here, with less strict environmental controls, and companies have learned to externalize every cost possible. Can you imagine a diagram of the parts of your Kindle?

I'd be glad to pay more for technology/appliances/stuff that can be fixed or upgraded part by part rather than replace the whole; I just don't know if anyone is willing to make something like that anymore. There's still small engine repair, but all our small appliance repair shops seem to have disappeared. There are places that'll fix your PC (until it's totally obsolete in a few years), but forget about your iPhone, take it to Apple and get a new one.

Can we bring design like this back? Can we bring back the small businesses needed to support this kind of design?  Man, I'd love to see it.

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