The Latvian famous State Electrotechnical Factory (Valsts Elektrotehniskā Fabrika) founded on 1919 made many things – the famous Minox camera, telephones, even airplanes. But, for one thing that its most liked by many including myself is their radios. VEF was one of the pioneers in the transistor analog radios in the Soviet Union. Together with Latvian Radiotehnika and Belorussian Selena radios the VEF set the standards for Soviet radio quality. There is already a special post of the VEF overall history. This post is dedicated to VEF radio models in accordance to World Radio day on February 13th.
VEF has been known to make first radio receivers since early thirties. VEFAR 2MD made in 1932 was table model radio operated by tubes was known of the earliest stock models. It could receive Long Wave and Medium Wave bands. Most of early models had full wooden case. 1933 VEF Super 4MD/34 was first radio to include two shortwave bands as the shortwave reception was a new thing and not fully used. Owning a radio in thirties was a sign of intelligence and wealth. Latvia received a handful of exports from Germany, but the Latvian made receivers started to become popular. After the rise of patriotism boosted by Kārlis Ulmanis authoritarian regime the Made in Latvia sign made these radios even more worthily.
One of the most beutiful models of those times was Veflux Special (Geographic 37) MDGr/37. Decorated with map of Europe and with wide shortwave reception it was what connected Latvians with outside world. VEF released at least two new models every year and at the end of the thirties they became more compact and theretofore more affordable. Some like Vefar B211 were exported to other countries like Germany. However, the occupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union and the German invasion 1941 halted the production.
After the World War 2 the VEF was nationalized by the Soviet Union. Soviet policy was not to destroy past Latvian companies but to restore them accordingly to Soviet economical needs. Riga was chosen as the main industrial center in the Baltic States. So radios were pretty soon again made in the VEF factory. On 1945 on the basis of the VEF Luxus M1307 the blueprint for VEF M-1357 was made. 14 lamp powered receiver with MW/LW and 3 SW bands was also very stylish according to those times. The main designer for VEF models was talented Anrejs Irbīte. Only small quantity of those models were released. Then came a truly compact receiver VEFSuper M557 with 3 bands and the ways of operation that became a standard. Volume knob served also as on and off knob, tuning knob and a smart tuner to alter the signal strengths. Together with round frequency dial. As the Soviet consumers demanded radios the Baltika (Baltics) radio receivers were released. People who had no knowledge about Latvia soon recognized it by VEF radios.
The VEF production in fifties were still tabletop radios, in large size mostly to fit in the household main living room. Radios like Мир М-152 or Latvija M137 had vast shortwave reception despite the fact that soviets soon were forced to use jammers to prevent the western propaganda broadcasting. 1955 VEF-Akords (М-255) had vinyl record player so now people could listen to they favorite music every time.
Even the most compact radio receiver was still too large and heavy to carry around. Then on 1955 a revolution was caused by portable Турист (ПМП-56) Turist PMP-59 the first Soviet portable radio. Size -270 – 180 – 90 мм. mass – 2.4 kg that was the parameters of the first Soviet portable. A radio also packed in letter case easily to carry around became a fad among youngsters. What today is another issue of Mini Ipad the VEF portables were the greatest gift for music lovers and travelers. Soviet people just as everyone else in the world knew how to have a good time. Battery powered and with earphones the VEF portables could be taken everywhere.
The Radiotehnika company from Latvia is said to make first portable transistor radio Ausma on 1962. A transistor radio is a small portable radio receiver that uses transistor-based circuitry. Radiotehnika soon became popular with their Selga and Gauja series. So VEF came up with another grand idea to make ever successful Spīdola receiver. Named after mythical witch like character in Latvian epic Lāčplēsis the Spīdola was a revolutionary multi-band receiver. After the first Spīdola the Spīdola 10 followed, then VEF 12. VEF 202 was on 1970 was a successful model and later was released as VEF 206 export model. VEF radios were exported to Eastern block countries, Soviet allied countries like Cuba and countries in Africa. However, some companies in Western Europe also received the VEF production.
The 1985 VEF 214 was more advanced. It had Automatic Frequency Control, separate on and off button, ability to switch battery power and AC power. Comparing to VEF 206 from 1975, that had only three knobs and the AC power box had to be screwed in the battery plug, the VEF 214 was a great step forward. However, the same uneasy to round band switcher was kept. For instance the 1967 Sanyo Campanetta Japan made 7 band receiver, already had AFC control, button for every wave band, treble and bass knob. Also the telescopic antenna was lot more taller than VEF antennas. And also the Sanyo had full FM band. The VEF 221 made on 1988 featured full FM band great audio quality and showed that Spīdola series still has potential.
VEF 260 and its successor models were adjusted to the new needs for cassette players. VEF 284 was one of the first truly magnitola (radio with cassette players) and were very close to western models. VEF 287 on 1987 had dual cassette player. Also stereo systems and speakers were made however the Radiotehnika was more better at them.
After the fall of the Soviet Union both VEF and Radiotehnika lost it prime ties with the Soviet market. The badly done privatization ruined VEF and it has split in many parts making insignificant production. Radiotehnika managed to survive and makes the top quality Hi-Fi audio speakers and systems and still two FM only portables Kandava and Abava.
The supreme VEF ,models especially the Spīdola series are now a vintage radio collection valuables. If preserved they work strikingly well. They can work with modern mostly D type batteries, if the AC power plug is preserved then they can work with it. However, the outputs for headphones and external antennas are different than the western standard. The signals they can receive is according to their bands – if Long Wave, Medium Wave and Shortwave these bands are not empty as most would think. Many international broadcasters have ceased their activity, but many remain and also the radios must be placed further from modern electric appliances to keep of interference. If the conditions is good and patience is at hand the LW,MW and SW bands can be more fun then the regular FM band.
Latvia has its very special place in radio history with its radios made by VEF and Radiotehnika. As radio hobbyist myself I find important to write stories and find and preserve the Latvian made radio receivers. If you happen to own a old VEF or even working VEF radio don’t trow it out. keep it and listen to it as they were ipads and planshetes at the times of our fathers. Radio is not dead and will never be and exists in what ever like form.