German Volksempfaenger VE 301 Dyn Radio (1938)

The German Volksempfaenger VE 301 radio was introduced in 1933. More properly spelled Volksempfänger, with an umlaut over the a, the name means People's Radio.

It is a controversial collector's item with considerable historical interest.

The People's Radio

Using only three tubes, this is a very simple radio by late-1930s standards.

Why so simple?

The Volksempfänger was sold for propaganda purposes during the Nazi years. Low price made it affordable to the masses. A similar goal fueled development of the inexpensive Volkswagen (people's car) which American buyers later adopted as the VW Beetle. The initial price of 75 Reichsmarks was about two weeks' wages for a German worker, vastly cheaper than most 1930s radios.

This promotional photo depicts an idealized German working-class family. Mother knits, Father reads the paper, and the smiling children cuddle a kitten while everyone listens to the Volksempfänger.

The Volksempfänger also lacked shortwave reception, making it more difficult for Germans to listen to foreign broadcasts.

Shortwave broadcasts, as you may know, can bounce around the globe, ricocheting between the Earth's ionosphere and its surface. A radio owner with a long antenna and even a modest shortwave receiver can receive stations from thousands of miles away. For obvious reasons, the Volksempfänger was designed without shortwave capabilities.

The three following posters illustrate these ideas. The first promotes the VE 301, stating that all Germany hears the Führer with the Volksempfänger. A frightening image, in hindsight.

The second poster shows a 1939 Volkswagen and cheerily informs Germans that they can buy their own cars by saving only 5 Marks per week. A car serves no propaganda purpose, of course, but the functional, bargain-priced People's Auto, like the People's Radio, became a mass-marketing success, not only in Germany, but around the world.

The third poster is downright scary. The caption says Traitor! and the dark picture shows a German furtively listening to a foreign broadcast from a speaker who looks like a Bolshevik (Communist), a party bitterly opposed by the Nazis. It was actually a crime during the Nazi years for Germans to tune in foreign broadcasts.

US Radio Policy during Wartime

The United States did not make propaganda radios in World War II. However, the US banned domestic radio manufacturing during the war, diverting production to military uses. If you owned a prewar radio, you could freely listen, but buying a new one was impossible.

US police also confiscated the prewar radios of many German and Japanese US citizens, altering them so that they could not receive foreign shortwave broadcasts. From time to time, US collectors still find such "politically corrected" radios, in which coils were cut, switches were jimmied, etc., to prevent shortwave reception.

Other citizens of the United States, and all countries for that matter, still owned prewar radios capable of receiving shortwave broadcasts. Although Germans were warned against listening to foreign broadcasting, US citizens (at least, those not of "enemy" ancestry) were free to listen to anything. The Nazi regime was well aware of that fact and beamed shortwave propaganda toward the US and Allied countries throughout World War II.

Marketing the Volksempfänger

A 1933 marketing brochure tells us much about the Volksempfänger. This section depicts the original VE 301 (there were several variations in the early 1930s) and gives the reasoning behind a people's receiver (translation).

The next section describes the radio's wonderful tone and other virtues. It also lists prices for the three VE 301 models and explains the model number. The VE stands for Volksempfänger and the 301 represents January 30 (30 1 in German notation) 1933, the day when the Nazi regime took power (translation).

The next part of the brochure discusses the radio's development and production. Built by 28 different German radio manufacturers using the same design, it was supervised and inspected by independent commissions. The first VE 301 was available in three models which used different power supplies: alternating line current (AC), batteries, or direct line current (DC) (translation). The radio was available in Bakelite and wooden cabinets.

The final page includes photos of key components and gives a few more technical details (translation). Notice the reed type loudspeaker.

The Volksempfänger was a huge success. By 1938, after five years of production, the number of radios in Germany had doubled, from around 4.5 million to over 9 million. Germany ranked near the top of European countries in the percentage of households which owned radios, giving the Nazi regime a direct, real-time communications link to much of the population.

Interestingly, this success was achieved simply through aggressive pricing, not through a monopoly. During the Nazi era, Germans were also able to buy more expensive radios, even those which received shortwave broadcasts, despite the fact that listening to foreign shortwave was forbidden.

Model VE 301 Dyn

About half a dozen VE 301 models were produced from 1933-1937. All of these early models used a reed type speaker, which is cheap but lacks volume and fidelity. In 1938, a new model was produced, VE 301 Dyn, which featured a more modern (and better sounding) electrodynamic speaker. The Dyn in the model designation stands for dynamische, i.e., electrodynamic.

Here is my VE 301 Dyn Volksempfänger.

The rectangular dial reveals this as a two-band radio. The first band is LW (Lange Welle, long wave), covering 150-350 kilohertz. Germans of the day could tune in a Deutschlandsender, or national station, on LW. This band is still used for general broadcasting in Europe. In the US, it was known as the "police band" and used for police and aircraft communications, but now it is basically silent.

The second band is MW (Mittel Welle, medium wave) from 550-1700 kilohertz. This is almost identical to the American standard broadcast band. In Germany of the 1930s, one used MW to tune in a nearby Reichssender, or regional station.

Printed on the glass dial are the names of cities in Germany and Austria: Dresden, Salzburg, Berlin, and so on. It comes as no surprise that stations from other countries do not appear.

On the front of the cabinet, to each side of the dial, you can see miniature German eagles, about the width of one's little fingernail. Someone has meticulously scraped off the tiny swastikas that formerly appeared in circles under the eagles.

Inside the cabinet you can see another little eagle imprint above the part number WD 40 RJ and the words Reichs Rundfunk (national broadcasting).

Back Panel

The back panel shows us the type numbers of the radio's three tubes and other information.

This radio operates on AC current. To the left is a diagram showing that you can select 110-volt, 130-volt, or 220-volt current by moving a wire on the power transformer.

At the lower right, you can see connectors E, A1, A2, and A3. The water faucet symbol tells us that E stands for Erde, earth, a ground connection. The three antenna jacks are for antennas of different lengths. When changing to different bands, you could also change the antenna for best reception.

Two different manufacturer names can be seen. The back panel says Nordmark, a radio brand produced by the Hagenuk factory in Kiel. However, the metal serial number plate on the back of the chassis lists Roland Brandt, another German manufacturer. I suppose the original Brandt panel was lost and someone substituted another from a different manufacturer.

A warning at the top of the panel tells you to pull the power plug before servicing the radio: Vorsicht! Vor Abnahme den Rückwand Netzstecker ziehen!

A warning at the lower right tells you to keep the radio away from water: Vor Nässe schützen.

My German is too poor to translate the large paragraph at the left completely, but it seems to tell the owner that this device is to be used only to receive live broadcasts, not to broadcast other "non-synchronized" material using a record player or microphone and loudspeaker.

Interior

Here is a view of the chassis from behind.

From left to right, we see the tubes, of types RGN 1064, RES 164, and AF7. The gold color on the AF7 tube is a metallic shield coating. The lampshade-like affair on the top is the connector for the tube's grid cap.

Also visible is the large electrodynamic speaker, with output transformer mounted to one side. This was a great improvement over earlier reed speakers. Mounted near the bottom of the speaker frame is the pilot lamp for the dial.

When I received the radio, it had been damaged in transit. The seller foolishly packed the radio lying on its back, causing the heavy power transformer to bend backward on its soft aluminum mounting bracket. Worse, he did not bother to remove any of the tubes, so the transformer smashed one tube and bent the pins of another.

What a heartbreaking mistake! Two of the radio's sixty-year old tubes were destroyed. These tubes have not been produced in many years and are now extremely expensive. I purchased replacements from a supplier in Germany, when the seller declined to accept responsibility for his poor packing.

If you ever ship one of these radios, remove the tubes and wrap them in bubble wrap, and ship the radio standing upright to avoid damaging the transformer bracket. An even better method would be to remove the chassis and speaker from the cabinet and pack them separately, to avoid breaking the Bakelite case if it hits a big bump during transit. The wires leading from the chassis to the speaker and pilot lamp should be cautiously unsoldered and labeled before packing.

Tuned Radio Frequency (TRF)

How does a radio operate with only three tubes? The VE 301 uses a tuned radio frequency (TRF) type circuit, which requires fewer tubes than the more modern superheterodyne type circuit.

TRF radios were very common during the 1920s, but were becoming obsolete by the 1930s. A TRF radio can be quite sensitive, but it is more difficult to tune than a superheterodyne. Classic TRF sets required you to manipulate two or even three knobs, rather than one, when tuning in a station. And the tuning process often involved some squealing noise. Once it is tuned in, however, a TRF radio can sound as good as any other.

Some people maintain that the Volksempfänger was deliberately designed to work poorly, to prevent Germans from hearing broadcasts from other countries. I see no evidence of that in the design. Here is the radio's schematic.

True, it's a simple radio, but simple radios are cheap! There is nothing inherent to a TRF design that makes it perform poorly. With a good antenna and proper ground, I imagine that many Germans could have tuned in broadcasts from neighboring countries in Europe, especially at night, when AM signals sometimes travel amazing distances.

Of course, the radio lacks shortwave coverage, but that is hardly surprising, and that does not equate to deliberately designing in poor performance.

Chassis

Here is the chassis removed from the cabinet. The chassis has slight surface rust, but that is easy to cure.

From this viewpoint, you can see the coil stack, tuning capacitor, and power transformer.

The underside of the chassis is sparsely populated.

The electrolytic capacitors have been replaced fairly recently. I wish the repairman had left the disconnected originals in place, rather than throwing them away. Then I could have "restuffed" the old cases with new capacitors, retaining the original appearance.

All hope is not lost, however. I have another German radio made in the same year, with completely original capacitors. I can carefully remove and flatten one of those cardboard cases, scan it, retouch the image if needed, then print it out to make an authentic-looking case.

Final Thoughts

I haven't begun to restore this radio. I'll take a few more photos during that process.

I purchased this radio as one of a pair. The other is the Deutscher Kleinempfänger (German little radio) DKE 38, a smaller and even lower-priced model.

Is it politically incorrect to own a radio made in Nazi Germany? Not in my view. I'm a radio collector, and to me this is simply a piece of history.

I'm as quick as anyone else to denounce the evil deeds and ideas of the Nazis. I also disapprove of the deeds and ideology of the former Soviet Union, but I happen to own a radio that was manufactured in the USSR.

A radio has no politics. It is simply a device.

There is a fair amount of information about these radios on the Internet. Rather than provide a list of links, which may become outdated tomorrow, I invite you to search for Volksempfänger on Google or your favorite search engine. Variant spellings of the name (Volksempfanger, Volksempfaenger) may give different results, so try them all.

©1995-2014 Philip I. Nelson, all rights reserved