1965 Soviet Spīdola-VEF Transistor Shortwave Portable

1966AugPracticalElec

This ad appeared fifty years ago this month, August 1966, in the British magazine Practical Electronics.

Details are lacking in the ad (such as the exact frequency coverage), but this import from the Soviet Union is probably one of the first shortwave transistor portables. The ad proclaims “another gold for Russia,” and that “the impossible has been done” with an 8 band radio for “hardly more than the cost of an ordinary single wave cheap transistor!”

The frequency coverage isn’t stated, but the set appears to be the VEF Spīdola from one of two Latvian manufacturers, Valsts Elektrotehniskā Fabrika (hence the VEF name) and Radiotehnika, both of Riga, Latvia. The sets were produced primarily for the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, but some were exported to Western Europe.

From the drawing in the ad, the set appears to be the Spīdola-VEF model PMK-65, which is described in detail at this Russian language Latvian site.

The set’s name means “shining” and is the name of a beautiful witch in a Latvian myth. The 10 transistor superhet runs off 6 D cell batteries, and covers 150-410 kHz longwave, 520-1600 kHz mediumwave, and several shortwave bands. The model described in the British ad is described as having eight bands, but the original Latvian model, with Cyrilic markings on the dial (but with the “VEF Spīdola” name in Roman text), has five shortwave bands. The dial is calibrated in meters, but the tuning ranges are 4.0-5.8 MHz, 5.85-6.3 MHz, 7-7.4 MHz, 9.4-9.9 MHz, and 11.6-12 MHz.

1965 Spīdola-10 export version, known as the Transistor-10 or Convair-10. Wikipedia photo.

Wikipedia shows an export version of the set, shown here, which is said to be the 1965 export version of the Spīdola-10, known as the Transistor-10 or Convair-10. The set has 6 shortwave bands. It doesn’t cover the lowest shortwave band, and the 41 and 49 meter bands are contained in a single band. In addition to 31 and 25 meters, it also covers the 19, 16, and 13 meter bands. The limited dial markings also use the Roman alphabet, and the abbreviations correspond with English.

The frequency coverage of this set matches up best with the description in the British ad, not only in the number of bands, but in the fact that there are “different transmissions at your fingertips 24 hours a day, even including amateur ‘Hams,’ ‘Pirate’ radio stations, ships, etc.” Since the version shown on the Latvian site only goes up to 25 meters, it’s not really optimized for daytime reception. Also, with the tuning ranges focused on broadcast bands, only the 40 meter amateur band is covered. So I tend to think that the British ad is for the Wikipedia export version, although the drawing in the ad corresponds to the seven-band set for the Soviet market.

SpidolaAn excellent history of the manufacturer of this set can be found at LatvianHistory.com.  The site also contains an excellent history of radio monitoring in Latvia as well as Soviet jamming.  It’s surprising to see mass production of consumer shortwave receivers taking place simultaneously with jamming of the signals destined for those receivers, but that appears to be exactly what the Soviets were doing.  The set shown here on that site (image courtesy of Maris Goldmanis) seems to match up closely with the set being advertised in Britain, although the set shown here has only seven bands and has Cyrillic markings.

From what I’ve been able to read, the Spīdola appears to live up to the advertising hype, and was an excellent portable transistor shortwave receiver, and certainly one of the first.

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