1963 GE P-807G AM Transistor Radio – The Initial Fall of American Manufacturing


Category: AM Broadcast Receiver
Type: Transistor Radio
Model: P-807G
Country or Origen: United States
Manufacturer: General Electric Co. (GE); Utica, NY
Year Manufactured: 1963-64 (as late as 1965)
Semiconductors: 5 Germanium Transistors
Tuning Range: 540-1600 kHz
Reception Type: Super-Heterodyne; IF 455 kHz; 2 stages
Power Source: Large 9 Volt (e.g. Eveready 266)
Loudspeaker: Reed Magnetic
Case Material: ABS plastic
Notes:
This radio pictured above mainly consists of three self-contained printed circuit board stage modules or PCBs mounted onto the top surface of the main PCB connected via wire jumpers . The speaker is a high impedance 3-inch with a steel reed suspended inside a coil between two magnetic poles driving a paper cone with a stylus connected between the end of the reed and the cone center. The speaker is directly driven by a single ended collector of a class-A amplifier. Starting with the P-80*B series, these radios were one of several GE transistor radio models to employ this type of speaker which was originally used with 1920’s radios. They supposedly used this type of speaker because of its efficiency and high impedance negating the need for an audio output transformer. The problem with this design was that one could not connect an external speaker or many types of low impedance headphones. Audio Module

* The second last numeric digit signifies the case color: 7 - black, 8 - white (almond), 9 - green.
   The last alpha digit was the revision series starting with ‘A’ which was first introduced in 1959.

The 1959 P-755A and P-80*A series had a metal grill, employed an output transformer & dynamic speaker, and had a number of other significant differences to the B and later models. Starting with the P-80*B model radios, these used a reed speaker and were in production for well over 5 years with no changes in the exterior cabinet styling. 


P-807G


A trademark of these radios,
the back has these tiny protruding rough dots set in a geometric pattern.

So, of all radios, why this radio?

Today we as a country have gone through a revolution in manufacturing. Basically put, we don’t make much in this country any more. The “revolution” is the American populous funding China and the growth of their economy as our way of life suffers. Avoiding the catastrophes of runaway inflation, we enjoy much imported inexpensive goods from Communist China.

Is this the first time in our history we’ve faced these issues? 

Well, few remember the 1960s through to the start of the 80s when a similar revolution swept through this country and ended up with consumer electronics primarily being manufactured in Japan. This above radio and its evolution tells this story. Though this radio plays very well, like Bose equipment, it was very expensive for what the purchaser got compared to Japanese made radios.  For example, remember the closing of the Zenith Assembly Plant in Sioux City, Iowa in 1978?

I was most likely 14 when the above radio left the General Electric Utica, NY plant and eventually found its way to Cincinnati’s based John Shillito Company or Shillito's Department Stores. In the 5 or 6 or how many years this radio was being sold, tens of thousands were sold by Shillito's, many to the neighbors of my family home. I remember this radio to be a popular one that wasn’t all that expensive. In 1963-5, it retail at Shillito's for $19.95. In 1962, it was advertised in Life Magazine for $16.95. In the late 60s, my sisters went to Swallen’s, a discount store in this old warehouse on Spring Grove Avenue, and got one on sale for $14.95. Mind you, in 2016 dollars, 14.95 was equivalent to $106 today. For less than $5, you could get a Japanese made radio. Also, this thing was really long in the tooth, meaning it was obsolete. 

So, again, why this particular radio? - It’s one I remember the most.

In 1965, most 15 year old guys who had a job would work after school in a grocery store, be a caddy at the neighborhood golf course, or mow grass. I, on the other hand, fixed small appliances and electronics for extra money.

I got into this business quite by accident. When I was 14, a neighbor’s mom threw out a small Japanese transistor radio because it stopped working and the cost of getting it fixed exceeded the cost of a new one. I fished it out of the trash, went to Radio Shack and bought a replacement part, and got the radio to work for less than a half a dollar. Soon word got out and she wanted the radio back. She badgered my parents till they felt a need to confront me. I then made up a story about Billy, her son, “…wanted me to fix it, so I did.”

“But Mom, he hasn’t paid me for fixing it yet!”

By 1967, my neighborhood fix-it business was, well, it kept me occupied and gave me some spending money. Anyhow, one of the things I fixed was these radios, lots of them.

Everyone liked them because they sounded really good and were less expensive. I have to admit, after retrieving the above from a box of old stuff from my late Father’s estate and hacking on it for a while, it does sound really good, as good as a tabletop radio. While delving into its 50 year old electronics, I felt it would sound rather old and primitive. But, when it finally came to life, it kind of blew me away with a blast from its tiny weird little speaker. Of all the antique radios in my collection, it sounds the best. That‘s hard to believe considering its innards.

Since I started working on GE products in the 60s, I’ve harbored a kind of disdain for their stuff. The reason, I remember saying, “…it’s so cheaply made.”

This radio was kind of anomalous. It has a strange speaker design not found in other radios. In order to get the sound quality and volume, the radio required 9 volts with more milliamp-hours than that of a standard 9 volt battery, there by requiring a much more expensive battery. Finally, the protective leatherette case was a bit of a hassle, so most didn’t use it. As a result, many of these radios got dropped, quickly ending their lives.

Yes, compared to the robustness of Japanese radios or the more expensive Zenith radios, these GE radios looked and felt rather flimsy. The electronics were a pain to work on because I had to unsolder these little modules to diagnose problems and replace parts. Then there was the speaker. I remember stocking Japanese permanent magnet speakers and special audio output transformers to replace the high impedance reed speaker. The magnets that were glued on either side of the reed would disintegrate over time there by lessening its sound output. The OEM replacement speakers were hideously expensive, almost as much as the radio cost. For about $4, the customer got a regular speaker and a tiny transformer put in their ailing radio.

Audio Output Stages of the GE P-80 Series Radios

P-807A P-807B P-807G

When I found the above radio, it barely played, leading me to believe that the output transistor had gone bad. Then after several minutes of diagnosing, I then thought to myself, “Damn, it’s the speaker!" This time, instead of replacing it with what I did in the 60s…which I seriously doubt I could find a transformer, I decided to super glue on some tiny magnets from a magnetic catch in a cell phone pouch. The radio probably sounds better now than when it came from the factory. These tiny magnets are rather powerful.

The point is, it looked like GE cut every corner they could in making radios. I mean, they are minimal bare-boned.

    

I think the last one of these radios I saw for sale was a white P-808 at Shillito's in 1965. Next to this AM only model was a much better made Japanese AM-FM for about the same cost. By the late 60s, and because of my repair experiences, all my electronics were made in Japan. The weird antiquated designed American made stuff just didn’t compare. Note. This was also true for the small Japanese cars vs. the big lumbering American made models.

Sometime in the late 70s, I remember my father lecturing me in a loud voice on companies selling what Americans wanted to buy.  My argument was the overseas stuff was better in quality.  But he continued on getting even more angry.  Several days later, there was an article in the paper about GE closing its small consumer electronics division. 

I had a lot of trouble fathoming why American electronic manufacturers were seemingly stuck in their ways not designing in the newer technologies and beating the Japanese at their own game.  Was it American pragmatism that eventually and ultimately led to the demise of all consumer based electronic production in the US?  Today, we literally make nothing in so far as consumer based electronics including most industrial components.  I've even heard we let the Chinese make our military electronics.

Steve E 2016