February 1939 Radio-Craft
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
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published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
"The situation is one that is difficult, if not wholly impossible to eradicate, because of all modern, 20th Century machine age products, the radio receiver of today undergoes more violent and more radical changes than almost any other single item we can think of." That was the lament of electronics inventor, publisher, and industry visionary Hugo Gernsback in 1939! He wrote of the practice of electronics component manufacturers vastly overproducing products and then, when they are quickly obsoleted due to newer better ones entering the market space, selling at below cost in hopes of recovering at least some of their investment. For a man who otherwise encouraged, welcomed, and participated in the pushing forward of technological frontiers, the attitude seem strangely at odds with his raison d'être. "This 'dog eat dog' process has gone on ever since and will probably go on for a long time to come." He had no idea ... or maybe he did.
By the Editor - Hugo Gernsback
Ever since Radio started, long before we had radio receivers and when the only radio business was the parts business, the radio industry was beset by the "dumping" problem. It has been with us ever since. In those days, particularly when the radio boom started in the early '20's a radio parts manufacturer would get a bright idea, let us say for a new type of radio condenser. He would manufacture 50,000 or 100,000 of them and sell a good many during the Season. Then suddenly someone else would come along and make a different condenser that was thought to be more up-to-date. Immediately the first condenser became obsolete and sales through normal channels and at popular prices rapidly declined; so in order to get at least part of his investment back, the manufacturer would dump the condenser, often below cost price, to get rid of it and salvage at least part of his investment. This sort of thing has kept up ever since and the evil is still with us.
There are few parallels in modern industry that can show such a record where year after year an industry throws upon the market its product to be sacrificed at whatever it may bring. The situation is one that is difficult, if not wholly impossible to eradicate, because of all modern, 20th Century machine age products, the radio receiver of today undergoes more violent and more radical changes than almost any other single item we can think of.
Perhaps the nearest parallel product is the automobile which also undergoes many changes year by year, but for some reason or other the automobile industry as a whole is not so much concerned with the dumping problem as is the radio industry. For one thing, an automobile is a much more expensive item, secondly prices are not openly slaughtered as are radio prices and if any so-called "dumping" is attempted at all it is usually accomplished by allowing the purchaser of a new, but last year's model car, a larger trade-in value on his present car.
Many manufacturers in the radio set industry today do not resort to such subtleties, but when they become convinced that their radio receiver is no longer saleable through regular channels the surplus is simply dumped on the market through the jobbing and retail trade for whatever prices they will bring.
This condition particularly becomes aggravated when a number of manufacturers attempt drastic changes. Years ago the radio receiver had as many as 10 controls on the front panel - all of which you had to manipulate in order to get your station. Everyone was happy, until one manufacturer came out with a set that had only 2 or 3 controls. Naturally the public took kindly to this type of set, which immediately sounded the death knell of the other sets not so equipped. This "dog eat dog" process has gone on ever since and will probably go on for a long time to come. When, for instance, the radio sets last year came out with pushbutton control there was a stampede by practically all manufacturers for pushbutton control. This immediately made the other sets that had no such control obsolete and they in turn had to be dumped for whatever they could bring. If the trend for the coming year will be remote "wireless" control then the pushbutton control sets in turn will become obsolete.
Of course, in many quarters the radio industry tries to emulate the automobile industry by doing away with the price slaughtering and making larger allowances for traded-in sets but this procedure has not been wholly satisfactory for the reason that the radio sets, unlike automobiles, do not wear out as rapidly and hence a radio receiver will give excellent results - at least to its owners - even if it is 5, 6 and even 10 years old.
While the owner's present set may sound "tinny" with its old rattling speaker, he does not appreciate this unless a new set were demonstrated alongside his present one to make him understand how far radio has traveled in the short space of a few years. Moreover, many radio set owners have a good investment in their old sets which may be anything from $50 to $250; meanwhile he has become used to his set and thinks there is nothing like it and is loathe to part with it. There is, therefore, a strong. buyers' resistance in radio sets, which is not so much the case in automobiles. It is certain that the average radio set in the homes of America is considerably older by many years than the average automobile on the road today.
It is, of course, also true that the public at large benefits by the "dumping" policy of the radio manufacturers and it enables the public to buy really first-class radio receivers at often unheard-of prices - and in a good brand, to boot.
Having become educated to this price-cutting policy, only the well-to-do buy the latest sets, whereas the average man waits until the price comes down, which it usually does by the end of the season. Then he picks up the set on which he has had his eye at a price that he can afford to pay; meanwhile, and for several years, he will have a real good receiver, even if it is not equipped with the latest gadgets, and he will be happy with his purchase.
The real loser in the transaction is, of course, as usual the Radio Industry and this is the reason why today there are not many manufacturers in the ranks of the radio set industry that can show the yearly profit to which they are clearly entitled. It is also the reason that whereas during the radio boom, when we had several hundred radio set manufacturers, today we have only a mere handful of the larger manufacturers who have been able to stand their own destructive "dumping" policy.
What is the answer to the problem? To me it seems that the radio set manufacturers, with only a few notable exceptions, have not made the most of their obvious means of propaganda for their own product and that is, most astonishingly, the thing that should be most dear to their hearts. I refer to Radio Broadcasting. The public, who by the millions is listening-in today on obsolete receivers, is not made sufficiently aware of this fact through specialized programs that would show up the defects of their radio sets - immediately. The printed advertisement can only go so far but when radio receiver technicians get together with broadcast engineers, they can in turn provide special programs of the type to show up immediately the obvious defects in a large percentage of radio sets - and right in the set-owner's own home.
This to me seems to be the best solution because it will educate the public to buy more and better receivers, and cure a great deal of the Dumping Evil.
Posted January 15, 2015