A.J.S. Wireless Receivers

Beginnings

In the early 1920's, motorcycle manufacturer A.J.S. was going from strength to strength. Orders were often exceeding production and the company rapidly expanded its Graiseley Hill and Lower Walsall Street sites. The company's leading designer and inventive genius, Harry Stevens, had been an enthusiastic radio amateur since before the first world war. He had a large mast and aerial in his back garden at 25 Oaklands Road, and made frequent transmissions to fellow enthusiasts. 


Harry Stevens' House in Oaklands Road

When the country went to war in 1914, radio amateurs were considered to be a security risk, and so the Post Master General ordered all wireless transmitters and receivers in private hands to be dismantled.

This came as a blow to Harry, who was slow to comply with the order. His neighbours suspected him of communicating with the enemy and contacted the local police. Reluctantly he had to remove his equipment.

In those days thermionic valves were in their infancy, in fact they were not perfected until after the outbreak of war. At this time Harry probably used a spark transmitter to send  morse code, although speech transmissions were being carried out at the time using a high frequency alternator operating at about 80KHz. Whichever form of apparatus he used, he probably designed and built it himself.

After the war Harry continued his transmissions. Components and valves soon became readily available, and so Harry was able to experiment with the new technology. His brother Joe Stevens junior, lived at the other end of Oaklands Road, and he also had a wireless receiver. At this time Harry was transmitting speech and Joe and his family used to listen to Harry's transmissions. It took him two years to complete his radio station. His call sign was 2SY. Around this time Harry built a chiming clock which was featured in an article in the 'Model Engineer', written by 'A.J.S.'. On Wednesday 1st March, 1922 the Wolverhampton and District Wireless Society held its first meeting. At the meeting the officers and committee were elected and Harry joined the committee. The Chairman, Mr. H. H. Speke, had a toy and book shop at number 26 King Street and meetings were held on Wednesday evenings at 7.30p.m., in a room behind the shop.
       

An advert from the Bilston Weekly of 25th November. 1927

On 27th April, 1922, a public concert and demonstration of radio was held at the A.J.S. works. It was advertised in the local press and radio shops as a demonstration of Wireless equipment and choral evening.  In 'Wireless World' the venue was described as the works mess room and in the 'Model Engineer' as the works assembly room. Whichever room it was, had a small stage at one end and was quite large. About 100 people attended and enjoyed the evening's entertainment, that included a wireless demonstration followed by singing. Harry Stevens was in the chair for the evening and the following artists performed:
John Bourne - a writer on the staff of the Express & Star
Ethel Davies
Arnold Devey - local Post Office Wireless Inspector
Stanley Eaton
Maud Morgan
Elsie Turton
All of the artists except for Arnold Devey formed a group of amateur singers. During the interval there was a demonstration of a loop aerial. For the wireless demonstration, the singers retired to a separate room and performed in front of a microphone. They were clearly heard in the concert room.

An advert from the Bilston Weekly of 17th June. 1927.
Also during 1922 an exhibition of home built receivers took place at the A.J.S. works canteen. About 20 members of the society entered equipment, which was judged by Harry Stevens and Harold Taylor, a radio amateur and an A.J.S. employee.

One Sunday morning in late 1922 or early 1923, radio enthusiast James Dunn broadcast a musical concert on his English baritone concertina from Harry's home radio station.

On Sunday mornings Harry used to broadcast to other local amateurs such as Harold Taylor, of the Lodge, Tettenhall, whose call sign was 2KQ, Reg Adams, of Walsall, who had call sign 2NO and Rudge Littley, of Lodge Road, West Bromwich, whose call sign was 2NV.

During one of these sessions plans were made for the setting up of the 'Transmitters Society', which was formed in the mid 1920s. Other local amateurs were H. Berry, of Lea Road, E. Marlow, of Penn Road, J. V. Rushton, of Mount Road, J. A. H. Devey, of Great Brickkiln Street and A. A. Devey, also of Great Brickkiln Street.

      

The History 
of Radio

     
By 1922 commercial radio had taken off in America and it was obvious that the same would happen here.

Early in the year, the B.B.C. was formed and regular broadcasts began before the year ended.

Harry envisaged a large new market for wireless receivers (due to the great demand for them in the USA) and so he pressurised the A.J.S. board, and got them to accept the idea of manufacturing A.J.S. receivers.


One of the company's first receivers, the table model from 1923. Courtesy of Joris Van Campenhout of the Olens Radiomuseum in Belgium.

Harry Stevens, the man who made it all possible.
An enlargement from one of Geoff Stevens' photographs.
New buildings were added at Lower Walsall Street for wireless manufacture, and the wireless department became known as A.J.S. Wireless and Scientific Instruments.

Harry soon designed a 4 valve  T.R.F. receiver, with a high frequency stage, a detector and a two stage audio amplifier. Four models were launched in 1923, all aimed at the top end of the market. The cheapest model, the 'Sloping Panel' sold for £30.17s.6d. and the top of the range model, the 'Pedestal', housed in a free standing cabinet, with internal horn loudspeaker, sold for £75.  There was a lot of public interest in wireless, and by October 1923, 500,000 licences had been issued. 

Five new models were released in 1924 with an overall reduction in the selling price. They were all T.R.F's, and prices varied from £17.10s.0d for a simple two valve receiver to £52.10s.0d. for the 4 valve pedestal receiver.

In July the royalties that had been paid to members of the B.B.C. were scrapped, and foreign manufacturers were allowed to sell their products here. This meant that British manufacturers now faced a lot of competition and so prices were again reduced.

A.J.S. decided to display their products at the September 1924 Wireless Exhibition, at the Royal Albert Hall, in London. They were joined by 55 other manufacturers, and the exhibition attracted over 46,000 visitors.

The A.J.S. wireless receivers were well received and attracted a lot of attention. As a result several new dealers were appointed in London. Sales were good and the receivers were gaining a reputation for quality and reliability. They had external valves so that they could be easily replaced as required. Valves at this time had a relatively short life.

The company opened it's own radio station, broadcasting from Lower Walsall Street Works. Most of the programmes consisted of music, presumably as a way of helping to sell the receivers.

For the technically minded -
Some A.J.S. products inside out


A type 'F' from 1924.

In 1925 the number of models increased to 10, and prices varied from £13.18s.6d for a 2 valve receiver, to £51.18s.0d for the pedestal model, with internal horn loudspeaker. Sales continued to increase, and so extra factory space was required to increase production. As space was available at the Stewart Street works, it was utilised for the wireless cabinet making department.

A new sound proof demonstration area was also added at Lower Walsall street, so that dealers could see the new receivers working in ideal conditions. On 10th September new showrooms and offices were opened at 122-124 Charing Cross Road, London, in time for the Wireless exhibition.

The 1925 exhibition was much bigger than in the previous year. There were no fewer than 109 exhibitors, and A.J.S. also displayed its range of accessories including horn loudspeakers and headphones.

At this time the number of licence holders had risen to over one and a half million. A.J.S. also had an office and showrooms at 240-250 Great Western Road, Glasgow, and dealers in Australia, New Zealand, India, Siam and South Africa.


An A.J.S. Pedestal Receiver

The beginning of 1926 wasn't a good time for A.J.S., as the company's sales were falling, mainly due to the rapid developments that were taking place in the industry.

An A.J.S. Table Model. Photo courtesy of John Chapman.
Superhets appeared in America in 1924. These are like modern receivers and only need very simple tuning controls. They also offer a much better performance than can be obtained from the relatively simple T.R.F. receivers that A.J.S. had so far produced.

The superhets also looked much better than the earlier receivers, as everything was hidden inside the cabinet. No valves were showing, and they were much easier to operate due to the simple tuning controls.

Something had to be done if A.J.S. was to retain its position in the market, and so a whole new range of modern looking receivers including two  superhets was rapidly developed.

The new receivers were called the Symphony range. There were two superhets and three cheaper T.R.F. receivers including a portable.

Prices ranged from £17.10s.0d. for the simple two valve, T.R.F., 'Symphony Two' to £67.10s.0d. for the seven valve 'Symphony Seven' superhet. The range also included the 'Symphony Five' which was a five valve, small portable T.R.F. receiver, with internal frame aerial and loudspeaker. It sold for £22.10s.0d. The manager of the radio section was Mr. Wilson, who later went on to become Managing Director of Reproducers and Amplifiers Ltd., in Frederick Street.
Read about the factories
Sales were initially good, but the seasonal nature of the industry meant that A.J.S. had to occasionally lay-off some of the workforce. In an attempt to retain the workers during the slack periods, the company started to produce the innovative 'Cobra' electric fire.

When standing upright it was a standard electric fire, but when lying on its back with the heating element facing upwards, it could be used as a small cooker, to maybe boil a kettle of water. Not many were produced and its doubtful if any have survived. The name came from the shape of the heating element.

An A.J.S. table receiver and horn loudspeaker 

An A.J.S. type 'F' table model. Courtesy of Steve Harris of On the Air Limited.
Some of the A.J.S. adverts were extremely clever. An example of this can be seen in the Illustrated London News of 12th December, 1925. The company's advert featured a stereo anaglyph showing a type 'F' table model and horn loudspeaker in a customer's house.

To view the stereo image a suitable viewer with a red and green filter is required. This could be obtained by requesting a copy of the latest sales literature.


Advert courtesy of Joris Van Campenhout.

If you would like to view the anaglyph in stereo and have a suitable viewer with a red and green filter, click on the button below. This will download the anaglyph which is rather large (166K). This may take some time if you have a slow internet connection.

To correctly view the image, hold the viewer with the red filter in front of your left eye and the green filter in front of your right eye.


View the anaglyph


A black and white version of the stereo image in the advert.


Wireless Department staff in 1924. Courtesy of Jim Boulton.


Some of the A.J.S. components

Wireless receiver prices were still falling in late 1926, and in order to compete, A.J.S. had to adopt mass production techniques for the receivers. A predominantly female workforce was employed, as it was considered that they were more suitable than men for the delicate, repetitive work, and were cheaper to employ.

Even after these measures were taken, sales did not improve. One problem with the receivers was that they were battery powered, A.J.S never produced a mains powered receiver. Mains receivers first appeared in August1926 and many manufacturers offered mains adaptors for their battery powered receivers.

By the summer of 1927 sales of the company's receivers were falling, mainly due to increased competition, and the introduction of cheaper mass-produced radios. At the time the sales of A.J.S. motorcycles and sidecars were also falling. Charles Haywood secured a contract for A.J.S. to build car bodies for Clyno cars at Lower Walsall Street, which was seen as a way of securing the factory's future. The A.J.S. Board thought that diversification might be a way of securing the company’s long term future and so decided to develop a range of commercial vehicle chassis at Lower Walsall Street, under Charles Hayward’s supervision.

As a result the wireless department moved from Lower Walsall Street to Stewart Street Works to free-up space required for building the car bodies, and for developing commercial vehicles.


The radio cabinet shop at Stewart Street in 1925.

Some of the A.J.S. receivers that were on sale in Italy had front panels that were engraved in Italian. The opposite photograph shows the Italian version of the 4 valve receiver that was sold in the UK from late 1923 onwards. 

This receiver belongs to a friend of Marco Manfredini and is currently undergoing restoration.

An Italian A.J.S. 4 valve receiver. Courtesy of Marco Manfredini.
Electroplating loudspeaker components at Lower Walsall Street.
Courtesy of Ray Jones.
Assembling horn loudspeakers at Lower Walsall Street in 1926. Courtesy of Geoff Stevens.
Receivers were rapidly becoming more complex, and as a result the public expected a very high performance from a receiver. A.J.S. was failing to keep up to date with the latest technology, and the receivers were starting to look old fashioned when compared to the latest designs.

A.J.S. decided to give-up production in 1928, and sold the Stewart Street works, the machinery and the remaining stock of components to the Symphony Gramophone and Radio Company. The sale took place on 30th October, 1928 with a selling price of £15,375. The new company soon began producing radio receivers, radiograms and loudspeakers.
   

  
Sadly Harry's Stevens' dream of becoming a major player in the new radio industry didn't materialise. The market had become very competitive and A.J.S. would have needed a lot of investment in order to compete with the larger manufacturers. Harry died at home on 19th January, 1954.
    


Harry Steven's final home in Windsor Avenue.


One of the later receivers, a Symphony Seven.

A Complete list of A.J.S. Wireless Receivers

Year

Model

Cabinet Type

Finish

Dimensions in inches. LxWxH

Number of valves

1923 Table model flat table top. Oak, walnut or mahogany 18.5x16.5x12 4
Sloping Panel Exposed sloping panel face Oak, walnut or mahogany 17x9x13.5 4
Table De Luxe Enclosed table top Oak or walnut 18.5x16.5x12 4
Pedestal Free standing with enclosed horn and battery compartment Oak or mahogany 21x19.25x43.5 4
1924 Type D Exposed sloping panel face Walnut or mahogany 13.5x8.5x11 2
Type E Exposed sloping panel face Walnut or mahogany 15.5x9x12.5 3
Type F Exposed sloping panel face Walnut or mahogany 17x9x13.5 4
Type F Enclosed table top -Unitop Oak, walnut or mahogany 20x17.5x12 4
Type F Free standing with enclosed horn and battery compartment Oak or mahogany 21x19.25x43.5 4

1925

Type Z Enclosed table top with exposed front panel Mahogany 14x9x11.25 2
Type D6 Exposed sloping panel face Oak or mahogany 13.5x8.5x11 2
Type E6 Exposed sloping panel face Oak or mahogany 15.5x9x12.5 3
Type F6 Exposed sloping panel face Oak or mahogany 17x9x13.5 4
Type T.M.1 Enclosed table top Mahogany 21.25x19.5x13.25 4
Type T.M.2 Enclosed table top Oak or mahogany 21.25x19.5x13.25 4
Pedestal P1 Free standing with enclosed horn and battery compartment Mahogany 21x19.25x43.5 4
Pedestal P2 Free standing with enclosed horn and battery compartment Oak or mahogany 21x19.25x43.5 4
Console S1 Free standing with enclosed horn and cupboards Mahogany and rosewood 39x21x39 4
Unit Pedestal Free standing 3 piece unit with enclosed horn and battery compartment Oak or mahogany 21x19.25x43.5 4

1926 to 1928

Symphony Two Lidded with exposed controls Mahogany 22x14x11 2
Symphony Three Lidded with exposed controls Mahogany 22x14x11 3
Symphony Five Lidded with exposed controls Mahogany 23.25x15.5x21.5 5
Symphony Five Free standing lidded with exposed controls Mahogany 23.25x15.5x39.5 5
Symphony Seven Lidded with exposed controls Mahogany 23.25x15.5x21.5 7
Symphony Seven Free standing lidded with exposed controls Mahogany 23.25x15.5x39.5 7
Symphony Five Portable with carrying handle Oak 16x8.5x13.5 5

The 1923 models included 2, 3, and 4 valve versions of the receivers listed above.

   
A note for would-be purchasers of A.J.S. receivers.

Many A.J.S. receivers have survived and occasionally come up for sale. They can be found at vintage radio fairs, old radio dealers, antique dealers and on the internet on such websites as ebay. A.J.S. receivers often interest collectors and can fetch high prices. Over the last two years I have seen many A.J.S. radios for sale, but two of them were not the genuine article and so care is necessary when considering a purchase. A.J.S. receivers were always built to the highest standards and are housed in quality wooden cabinets, anything that is not should be treated with suspicion. Top quality components are used throughout and front panels are always nicely lettered and labelled. If you come across any A.J.S. radio for sale that is not listed in the above table, or does not match the specification, it is probably not the genuine article, so please be careful.

If you own an A.J.S. receiver, amplifier or loudspeaker and have any photographs or circuit details that I can include here please email me.

I would like to thank the late Geoff Stevens, the late Jim Boulton, Ray Jones, Ian Higginbottom, Joris Van Campenhout, and Gorm Helthansen for all of their help in preparing this section.


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