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Radio With A New Station In Life

BY: MARY ANNE GILL

PUBLISHED: WAIKATO TIMES 13 MAY 2006, P.D7

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The days of gramophones and early portable radios are recalled at Waikato Museum, writes Mary Anne Gill.

Mr and Mrs Lee's funky portable radio is quite a head-turner even today.

The couple bought it in 1953 to take on holiday to Thames where they were converting an old Auckland tram into a caravan-bach at Tapu Camp. It was to provide entertainment while the work went on.

But the first thing they heard when they turned it on on Christmas Day was the devastating news of the Tangiwai rail disaster, in which 151 people were killed when a train plunged off a bridge that had been destroyed by a lahar from Mt Ruapehu.

The radio is now in the vault at the Waikato Museum, donated by the couple in 1983.

It was one of the earlier types of portable radio made by Collier and Beale Ltd in Wellington earlier in 1953. They bought the grey-green and cream-fitting radio from Robson Vickery Ltd in Victoria St. The radio has carved corners and a carry handle on the top.

The flip-up station dial at the front, which automatically goes on when it's up, has a removable cover at the back for batteries. It could also be operated by electricity.

Waikato Museum concept leader (social history) Crystal Ardern says the radio is her favourite in the museum's collection.

"It is absolutely brilliant in terms of aesthetics. It is just such a fun piece, particularly with its pop-up face.

"The colours and form are just fantastic."

Because it has a history associated with it, the radio could be used in future museum exhibitions. "It means we can create social history exhibitions that are so much more engaging," she says. The radio is not the museum's only piece of audio technology.

Mr H E Schofield gave an HMV cabinet grand model gramophone to the museum in 1979. The wind-up model has a polished wooden cabinet with lift-up lid, two sets of double doors at the front and a wind-up handle on the side. It was made in either the 1920s or 1930s. The gramophone and records were left to Mr Schofield after a friend of his in Matamata died. The friend used to hold record evenings _ something Mr Schofield, a barrister and solicitor, continued to do in Hamilton when he became involved in small Waikato orchestral groups. He was also a conductor for the Hamilton Operatic Society.

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"This example proves the importance of having a story with the object," says Ardern. "It has a history and a voice and a previous life."

Other pieces of audio history at the museum include a packet of gramophone needles made in Great Britain and also donated by Mr Schofield. The instructions on the packet note that each of the Columbia Chromium needles gives 60 playings. Mrs D W Park of Hamilton donated a 1920s wind-up children's gramophone to the museum in 1967.

Ardern says the gramophone is "simply cute".

"You can almost imagine a child opening up something like this on Christmas Day and just being ecstatic."

The green and black gramophone is made of metal with a small turntable, detached needle arm and amplifier with black transfer illustrations of children. However, the lack of a story to go with it makes its use minimal, says Ardern.