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Vintage Radio Glossary - Page One

The meaning of a word or phrase is sometimes hard to come across, especially on websites or other media sources that have a world-wide audience. Not only do those from a non-english-speaking background have to grasp English to communicate universally on the Internet, English speakers are sometimes hampered by different dialects, even in what is regarded as 'The Queen's English' there are differences in terminology caused by the distances between international borders. Hopefully pages like this make life easier for people who want to absorb information about a specific subject but also highlight where a perceived difference is actually a similarity. Vintage Radio utilises The Queen's English where-ever possible.

Please choose a letter or simply scroll down the page.


Aerial: A length of wire suspended in air intended to act as an antenna. It picks up signals and feeds them to a tuned circuit.

Alpha: Represents the letter A in the phonetic alphabet.

Amateur: A person who is permitted to broadcast but is not permitted to do so for fee or reward.

Amp (Ampere): A unit that represents the flow of electric current. When comparing the power consumed by a purely resistive load, current flow is inversly proportional to the voltage drop across it. The amp is named after Andre-Marie Ampere (Born in Lyon, France, 1775 - 1836), the physicist who discovered a way to measure the flow of current in a circuit.

Amperite: A type of valve containing a ballast which is used for current limiting.

Antenna: A metallic array or loop of wire designed to pick up signals from a radio transmitter and feed them into a tuned circuit.

Arc: A spark generated by electricity. These sparks are usually intentional and can be used for transmitting radio signals or rectifying a flow of current.


Bakelite: Trademark. Bakelite is a durable thermosetting type of plastic that was commonly used as an electrical insulator or to house electronic components. Bakelite could withstand heat and light for many years though easily broke if dropped. Bakelite was available in black, white, brown, various marbled and mottled tones and many bright colours.

Baseless: A term used to describe a valve that has no bakelite or metal base. The pins on such valves are attached directly to the glass envelope.

Battery: A group of electro-chemical cells that deliver a specific amount of electricity measured in volts. Each cell, formed into a battery, adds to the voltage available at the terminals. In modern times it is common to also refer to a cell as a battery, though this is a misnomer.

Binding post: A device used to terminate temporary or semi-permanent wiring on the back of a radio chassis.

Bravo: Represents the letter B in the phonetic alphabet.

Browning Drake: A popular kitset receiver in the 1920's.

Bulb: See 'Globe'.

Bush: Usually made of brass or steel, it served as an insulator or as a weight-bearing component to make other components spin easily.


Cabinet: A body of timber, plastic and in rare cases, metal, to house a radio chassis and/or components.

Callsign: A government-issued name that were allocated to transmitters. Radio stations were once obliged to identify themselves by their callsign EG: 2UE, the number prefix indicating the state the station was located in and the last two letters indicating an AM station (three letters for FM stations). All but the most conservative stations are starting to use company names and/or frequency to identify their stations these days though by law they must still bear a callsign.

Capacitor: The modern name for items once known as condensers. Please see 'Condenser' for more information.

Celluloid: A thermo-plastic made from camphor and other products. Celluloid is used to make photographic film though it was also used in making dial glasses and dial scales in the 1920's and 1930's.

Charlie: Represents the letter C in the phonetic alphabet.

Chassis: A French word describing the frame that a machine or appliance is mounted on.

Chime: Brief period of music used to fill in the gaps between broadcast events, seldom used today.

Condenser: An electronic component that stores an electric charge. A condenser can have a fixed or variable value and uses include filtering current flows, voltage boosting, tuning and the control of the tone in a loudspeaker.

Copper: A metallic mineral used in many electronic and electrical situations because of its excellent conductivity properties.

Catalin: A thermosetting plastic, similar to bakelite, but was used mainly in the United States of America to make brightly coloured radio cabinets.

Coulomb: The standard metric unit to measure an electric charge. One coulomb is equal to the movement of 1 amp over a period of 1 second. The unit is named after a physicist, Charles Augustin de Coulomb, (Born in Angouleme, France, 1736 - 1806).


Delta: Represents the letter D in the phonetic alphabet.

Detector: Usually a valve or a piece of quartz crystal that was used to rectify a radio signal picked up by an antenna.

Dial: A piece of glass or plastic that indicates what stations can be tuned in. A few countries, including Australia, printed the station call signs on the dial, whilst most just printed the frequency range or numbered from 0 - 100.

Dial cord: A length of firmly spun string that operates the tuning condenser from a knob on the front of a receiver. These often require replacing after fifty years of faithful service.

Diode: An electronic component that allows an electric current to flow only on one direction. Diodes are most commonly used to rectify current flows from transformers though are also used to detect and rectify radio waves. Many early valves were diodes. The term diode is a derivative of the word dialectrode.


E's & I's: A slang expression describing transformer laminations as half of them are in the shape of a letter E and the other half take the shape of a letter I.

Echo: Represents the letter E in the phonetic alphabet.

Electricity: An invisible but powerful phenomenon that provides clean energy to operate appliances and tools. Electricity is also extremly dangerous when it is not treated with respect and care.

Electro-magnetic: The term used to describe something that has magnetic properties with such properties generated by an electric current rather than natural magnetism.

Electron: A negative electric charge in a piece of material. Electron flow is inversly proportional to current flow, the flow of protons, or positive charges.

Envelope: An envelope is the body of a valve, usually made of delicate glass but can be made of aluminium too.

Estapol: Trademark. An Australian brand of clear lacquer made by the Wattyl company.


Filament: A coil of wire used in valves and light globes to create heat or light. Filaments were first made of carbonised horsehair but nowadays are usually made of a brittle metal called tungsten.

Fleming: Sir John Ambrose Fleming (Born in Lancaster, England, 1849 - 1945) was credited with being the inventor of the thermionic valve

Foxtrot: Represents the letter F in the phonetic alphabet.


Globe: Glass envelope with enclosed filament used to illuminate dial glasses, usually rated at 6.3 volts.

Golf: Represents the letter G in the phonetic alphabet.

Grid: A component usually made of fine metal mesh inside a valve that regulates the flow of current between other parts of the valve, namely the anode (plate) and the cathode which is heated by the adjacent filament.

Gridleak: A resistor encased in glass, similar in size to an old automotive fuse, designed to provide a high resistance link to the screen grid inside a valve.

Grille cloth: A piece of material used to cover loud speakers, often woven in elaborate patterns but with enough acoustic transparency to let the sounds through.

Grub screw: A small screw that holds small items such as knobs or extension shafts in place.


Heater: A term sometimes used to refer to the filament coils inside valves.

Hertz: The unit used to represent the number of cycles per second in an electric current. Fifty cycles per second equals fifty Hertz. The unit was named after Dr Heinrich Hertz (Born in Hamburg, Germany, 1857 - 1894), a physicist who discovered that electromagnetic waves could be transmitted and received by coils of wire in close proximity.

Hotel: Represents the letter H in the phonetic alphabet.


India: Represents the letter I in the phonetic alphabet.


Juliet: Represents the letter J in the phonetic alphabet.


Kilo: Represents the letter K in the phonetic alphabet.

Knob: A decorative device attached to the spindles of controls.

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