Sold in seven minutes! - McMichael 135

Author: Steve Harris

McMichael Radio The firm of McMichael Radio, based in Slough, was established in the early 1920s by Leslie McMichael, in collaboration with design engineer Ben Hesketh. (Until the late 30s, sets carried the initials M-H, which stood for McMichael-Hesketh.) Their sets were very solidly engineered, and made to a high standard. They also went to a lot of trouble with promotion, publicity being attracted by demonstrations of their sets' abilities to receive on trains and aeroplanes. These tests were probably less severe than the public imagined, but they were good publicity stunts. Their sets were sold mainly by accredited dealers, who were urged on by an in-house magazine called the McMichael Messenger, which featured dealers from around the country, whose sales were exemplary. There were also exhortations to sell new models in various situations - "Make Sales Following Spring Cleaning" was one from June 1935.

Housewives were to be targeted, the dealer being urged to offer to remove the family wireless to a safe place (free of course), while the spring cleaning was under way. On it's return,leaflets should be provided, or a demonstration of the new model arranged. The aim being to persuade the lady of the house to give the Gecophone Smoker's Cabinet to the rag and bone man, and buy a new McMichael. rag and bone man The new set illustrated was the latest model, the 135, released on April 23rd 1935. It's main feature was the enormous tuning scale, which the hype in the 'Messenger' says "Makes radio tuning a pleasant and attractive feature rather than a labour to the hand and eye."135 The scale itself was made to be simply removeable, should any changes to wavelengths occur. This 'future proofing' (as futile then as it is now!) was a good sales point, as the Lucerne Plan had just caused a major upheaval of station frequencies in 1934. The dial was lit by a lamp fitted in the lid, which also,served as a pilot light when the lid was closed, as it also back lit the MH logo on a pierced metal plate on the lid front. The overall appeal of the cabinet, with it's restrained, slightly antique look to the traditional instincts of the average middle-class buyer must have been strong.

Despite the new aesthetic of the Modernists, and the Art Deco movement, British taste was still very conservative. As the item above shows, even in Southend on Sea, home of the Ekco factory, the 135 appealed strongly. This lady obviously didn't want any of this modern jazz age design in her house. Interestingly, there is no mention of the matching stand, which is now very much part of the appeal of this set. That is possibly because the stand was not introduced until May, and the article was probably put together before then. The stand was £2.2.0d extra, so many people must have bought the set alone, which was fairly good value at 15 guineas.

matching stand The efforts of the salesmen were evidently not wasted, by the number of these sets that have survived. I must have had well over 20 through my hands, at the moment having four in various conditions, from excellent to disgusting. This may be an example of my theory that people hang on to items of perceived quality more readily than they do cheaper articles, rather than the possibility that every home in Britain had a McMichael 135. A mahogany model was available, but to special order only. The colour of the walnut cabinet varies considerably anyway, some being quite light, while others are stained dark, so it would not be too easy to tell which was which.

The design was so popular, that it was followed up by another very similar model, the 137 in 1937. (The ability to find the year of issue in the model number is a handy feature, but only works until the end of the 30s.) The 137 looks identical, except that the dial tilts up as you lift the lid. This was an idea that looks as it was dreamed up by the sales department, to give a new feature to the old model. It must have given the designers a few headaches, but not as many as it gave the service engineers. To achieve the pointer movement, plus a waveband indicator, requires the cord to pass around no less than 14 pulleys. Needless to say, it is prone to infuriating problems.

The 135 has no such vices. The tuning drive is quite straightforward, once you get the chassis out. This looks impossible, but is actually no prob lem if you remember to do things in the right order. First unsolder the wires to the tag panel on the back right of the chassis. Note, label or whatever the order for reassembly, but you will probably have to replace the wiring as it will be perished. Then remove the dial glass (two big screws), and pull off the pointer. Then pull off the four control knobs. Turn over the cabinet, and undo the fixing screws. The chassis will then wangle out, tilting it forwards. Interestingly there are two different cabinets used. Some have the top of the main cabinet integral with the sides, and in others it is removable by releasing several screws visible on top. This method was used on the 137, so probably they are the later production run. The two speakers are mounted on a baffle board, along with the smoothing condensers, which will need replacing. The board is held in by four screws, so it is worth taking it out to clean out the dust and dead things that will be behind it. You will need to do this if the cloth is in need of replacement, which it usually is.

The chassis is quite good to work on, the components being nicely spaced out all over the large L-shaped area. The mains transformer sticks out at the front, making the chassis tip over all the time, which is a bit annoying, but there you are, life is like that. The 137 cured this by mounting the transformer separately on the bottom of the cabinet, so providing a laborious task of undoing the bolts, not to mention having a rat's nest of wires and bits straggling all over the bench. I have also heard of several occasions of the 137's transformer going on fire, so on balance I prefer the chassis tipping over on the 135. I wedge a reel of solder under it anyway.

The two speakers are both energised types, and have different responses. The larger one is of course the bass unit, while the smaller is designed for a better treble response. Well, more soprano really, as the fidelity graph, kindly supplied by the development department in the McMichael Messenger show a plus or minus 3dB curve from 100 to 1000 c/s, which then nosedives to -20dB at about 8 Kc/s. This response looks appalling by modern standards, but taking into account the limited bandwidth of AM transmissions, and the amount of compression used nowadays, the sound quality as heard is actually very good. The two speakers give an extra degree of realism, not quite stereo but with a certain presence. If you do rewire the speakers by the way, make sure they are in phase, or you will get an odd cancellation effect. It is also worth checking the field coils, as the large speaker acts as a choke for HT smoothing, while the smaller one is connected across the HT via a resistor. If one has failed, the speaker will work, but only faintly. In good order, the 135 is a pleasure to listen to, as well as a piece of furniture.
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