Philips BD273U "Philetta" Bakelite Radio (1957)

        

     

The jewel-like Philips "Philetta" is one of my favorite European tabletops. I found this one in February, 2000, and its condition is almost like new.

The dramatic plastic grille is reverse-painted in gold, with red accents in the Philips logo at top center. Behind the louvers is a perforated metal grille, also gold colored. The four cream-colored plastic knobs are trimmed in brass, to match the raised legend Philetta near bottom center. The cabinet is ivory-painted Bakelite with dark recessed strips surrounding the front panel.

This radio is exceptionally pretty in a dimly lit room. The two pilot lamps are edge-mounted at the bottom of the one-piece plastic dial, not only lighting the dial itself but casting a soft glow over the golden louvers at top.

The Philetta was one of Philips' most popular small tabletops. This one has four bands: FM, SW (shortwave), MW (standard broadcast),and LW (longwave). On the back of the radio are connections for external FM and AM antennas, an external speaker, and a phonograph turntable.

The D in the model number indicates that this radio was made for the German market. The U at the end of the model number stands for "universal," indicating that it is an AC/DC set. The radio can also be used with either 240-volt or 127-volt AC current. If you look carefully at the rear view, you'll see the number 127 peeking through a little hole in the back cover. In the overhead chassis view, you can see the 240/127 switch at lower right of the chassis.

This set still had the delightful Philetta tag shown below. I suppose the tag was originally wrapped around one of the knobs in front, but the previous owner saved it by hanging it around a backplate mounting screw.

Packing four-band capability into a small cabinet results in a dense chassis design. The next view shows the chassis from above, before the radio had been cleaned up or restored. As you can see, the set uses a ferrite core antenna for AM reception.

The radio uses six tubes, types UCC 85, UF 89, UCH 81, UABC 80, UL 84, and UY 85. I'm glad that the tubes in mine are working well. My tube tester won't test any of these European types, and my tube reference indicates that they have no American equivalents.

Restoring this radio was not very difficult. The cabinet and grille needed only routine cleaning. If you find one of these with a dirty grille, use great care if you decide to clean the reverse-painted side of the grill. The water-based paint will easily wipe right off! I have seen more than one Philetta whose dial markings were half-gone, perhaps from spending too much time in a damp environment or from too-vigorous cleaning.

Electronic Restoration

Although the radio played on all bands as found, I decided to replace its old paper capacitors. That type of capacitor is too unreliable to trust in regular service, and I wanted to make this radio into a daily driver. Before replacing anything, I cleaned the volume control, tone control, and tuning mechanism, and slowly brought up the power using a variac.

The paper capacitors in this radio are smaller than units of equivalent value in American radios. Compactness seems to be a general design goal in European radios, in fact. As the next view shows, the underside of the chassis contains virtually no empty space. (This photo was taken before restoration.)

There are actually more components that you can readily see in this view. In some areas, the components are mounted in layers, making it a real trial if you need to replace something buried far below.

The small components and dense layout made simple capacitor replacement a tedious business. Eventually the job was done, however, and I was rewarded with an attractive radio that's a surprising performer. The tone quality is exceptionally good considering the small speaker and cabinet, another characteristic that seems to be a hallmark of European sets.

Disregarding my usual practice, I did not replace the radio's two large electrolytic filter capacitors. It plays with no hum, and, as with other components, the filter capacitor is so small that I couldn't fit two new American replacements inside it. The underside of the chassis also lacks space to fit those components and I would rather avoid mounting them in unsightly fashion above the chassis.

Making New Knob Inserts

The radio was missing one of the decorative brass inserts that go in the middle of each small knob in front. Using sheet brass and simple hand tools, I fashioned a new insert in about ten minutes. You can use the same process to replace missing brass inserts, which often fall off after their old glue dries out.

The first step was to find a wooden dowel of the right diameter and sand one end into a shallow cone shape. Then I rummaged around in the garage until I found a metal tool that had a hole slightly larger than the insert diameter. It happened to be an old spark plug wrench. You could also use a metal nut of the right size, or a piece of scrap hardwood with a hole drilled in it.

Next, I placed a sheet of thin (.016 inch) sheet brass between my dowel form and the hole in the wrench, centered the dowel in the hole, and gave it a sharp rap with a hammer. This formed the desired dome shape in the sheet of brass. Then I snipped out a square containing the brass dome using heavy shears. The next photo shows the project at this stage.

Then I used a file and fine emery paper to trim the piece into circular shape and smooth its edges. The final step was to shine it with a dab of metal polish and spray it with a shot of clear lacquer to prevent tarnishing. The last photo shows the insert sitting on top of its little dowel form just before I applied the final polish and lacquer.

You can view the final result by looking back at the first photo on this page. Are you able to tell which insert is the reproduction? With a little more fussing and fancier tools, I could have made an insert that looks even better. This one easily passes casual inspection, however. Now that I know how easy it is, I'm going to replace missing inserts on a few other radios in the house, including a couple of Zenith TransOceanics.

If you look at my Telefunken Gavotte, you'll another radio using using the same general layout, with central buttons on the bottom, multi-function knobs at each side, and speaker grille on the top. This layout was extremely common in European radios. Other Philips radios in my collection include the charming LX444AB/01 portable, the sophisticated B5-X-34-A tabletop, and and a 1954 BX135U. The last radio is the same model used in a television movie that featured my website.

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