Philco 444 "People's Set" Radio (1936)

Dubbed the "People's Set" by its maker, the British Philco Model 444 was designed for economy. Somewhat like the German Volksempfänger, it was an appliance for the masses, in an age when radio was becoming a true mass medium.

The 444 sold in 1936 for £6 6s, which equates to roughly £320, or US$520 in today's money. That may not sound cheap, but most British radios of the time were even more costly, beyond the reach of many workers.

This is a large, imposing tabletop radio, about the same size as classic cathedrals such as my Philco 90. The cabinet is made of Bakelite, however, a material that was cheaper than wood in 1930s Great Britain.

Everything about this design is distinctive, from the modernistic dial to the clean, dramatic cabinet lines. Some people claim the cabinet was influenced by the engine cover of the Volkswagen Beetle, but I believe that both designs were simply a product of contemporary trends.

As the dial shows, this is a two-band receiver, covering Medium Wave frequencies from 500-1500 kilocycles and Long Wave from 150-300 kilocycles. Since the MW band corresponds to the greater portion of the US Standard Broadcast band, the 444 is usable today in America, although the LW band has no commercial broadcasts nowadays.

My radio's electronics were restored by the previous owner and it works very nicely. This owner was born in the UK but lived and worked in the US for many years.

The cosmetics of this set are impeccable, with not a mark on the Bakelite case and no discoloration of the dial face. The white silk moire grille cloth creates a vivid contrast against the black Bakelite.

The People's Set

Whereas the German Volksempfänger had, in part, an overt propaganda purpose, the same cannot necessarily be said of the British People's Set. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) had long fostered the notion that broadcasting should nurture an informed and educated public, with objectivity as an explicit goal. To further these aims, what could be better than putting inexpensive radios in the hands of as many citizens as possible?

Of course, "propaganda" is a slippery concept. In every nation during the 1930s, government statements were accepted as fact which, in hindsight, we might call shading the truth, if not outright propaganda. The main intent behind the People's Set seems to have been benign, however.

Politics aside, the Philco 444 was a commercial success, and a fair number of them survive to this day. The attractive design, coupled with historical interest, makes it a favorite of collectors.

Under the Hood

Tubes were costly items in 1930s England, so a four-tube radio like the 444 could be sold at a lower price than a more complex set.

The tubes employed are type 80 (rectifier), 6A7 (oscillator and first detector), 78E (intermediate frequency amplifier), and PENDD61 (second detector, automatic volume control, and pentode output).

Three of those tubes are well known, but the fourth—the PENDD61—deserves special mention. It was manufactured especially for this radio and it does more than one job.

Not surprisingly, given the limited production, working PENDD61 tubes are scarce and expensive nowadays. Not many tubes fall into this category. One notable example would be the Wunderlich tube, used only in the US by E.H. Scott and in an obscure Mission Bell auto radio.

In the chassis rear view, the 80 rectifier tube stands in the middle, bearing a lick of tape with a handwritten note. To its right is the PENDD61.

The photo shows the radio's electromagnetic type speaker, whose field coil provides filtering in the power supply. Atop the power transformer at lower left, you can see a little jumper which can be moved to select either 220-volt or 120-volt line input. (Some parts of England still had 120-volt service in those days.)

The blue cylinder peeking from behind the transformer is a modern electrolytic capacitor, installed by the previous owner. It looks out of place, so I might replace it with a can-type capacitor that appears correct for 1936. (Inside that vintage container will be a new capacitor, of course.)

Here is the Radio Service Bulletin for this radio.


You can also find schematics in the Radio Marketing Service Engineer and in Wireless Trader Service Sheets.

A Philco 444 was used as the backdrop for a 1979 Elvis Costello music video of the song Radio Radio.

©1995-2024 Philip I. Nelson, all rights reserved