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The VEF Radios

VEF 206 and VEF 221 world receivers

VEF 206 and VEF 221 world receivers

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.

VEFAR 2MD first VEF rado from 1932

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.

Veflux Special (Geographic 37) MDGr/37

Veflux Special (Geographic 37) MDGr/37

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.

VEF М-1357

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.

VEF-Akords (М-255)

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.

Turist the first Soviet portable receiver

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.

Spīdola portable transistor

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.

VEF- 214

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

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.

Selected Sources:




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The history of the Latvian Radio

The main building of the Latvian Radio

Radio is the first mass media in the world. For many decades since the end of 19th century radio has been an important source of information. Despite the television and the internet people still listen to the radio everyday and everywhere in the world. In the possible event of the natural or industrial disaster radio may be the only source of information as it was back in the days of World war II and early days of the Cold War when millions of people’s turned radio every evening to hear the latest news.

Latvia is no stranger to radio and the Latvian Radio has worked since 1925. It all begun in 1895. When scientists learned to transmit information over large distances using radio waves. It’s still a matter of discussion whether it was Guglielmo Marconi or Alexander Popov who first discovered and invented radio, but both these men made great contribution to radio invention. In the first years after the great invention radio was used for two point communications. Then in the  beginning of the golden  twenties radio signals were transmitted to various locations and the public broadcasting was born.

The first working broadcasting center was opened in London on  February 1 1922. Next one was opened in Berlin year later and many other cities in Germany. Then in 1925 first experimental radio broadcasts were done in Riga, Latvia. From radiotelegraph transmitter at Kuģu street first words transmitted were: “Hallo! Hallo!  The Riga radio test!”

The building of Latvian broadcaster was inspired by engineer Janis Linters. Radio broadcasts were not widely known to public. First Latvian parliament budget  commission rejected the funding of the new project. It was hard to explain to deputies how radio receiver actually works. From available parts found in the Pardaugava radio center a radio receiver was made. A two pair of headphones was included and the radio receiver was demonstrated to the deputies. Astonished statesmen one by one listened to the broadcaster who was reading the “Government Herald”. Linters explained how easy it was to use a radio receiver and told that can also be made in Latvia. Linters calculated that invested funds will pay off in 10-15 years. However he was wrong because of the high numbers of radio subscribers the investments paid off in four years.

The father of the Latvian radio Janis Linters.

Before the final vote. Deputies asked many questions how the electromagnetic waves spread – should doors be opened to let them into the room. The budget commission finally voted yes.  140 000 LVL was given to build a broadcaster. It happened in 1924, March 28.

The radio station was built by  a French company. From Dunkirk to Riga by ship antenna pole and transmitter equipment was sent and was intended to be used in Central Post office along the canal side. Later this street along the canal was named Radio street. Radio equipment working on 200 watts was placed in two rooms. The wavelength was 480, 3 meters. Antenna pole was erected near the Post building.

The Radio and Central Post office building. Now an Economical Science faculty building.

Radio broadcaster was opened on November 1 1925. After the short speech by the transportation minister a connection was made to opera theater and the opera by Puccini Madame Butterfly was played on radio.

 In 1929 a reconstruction of the transmitter was made. Its power was raised to 15 kW and antenna towers were extended to 60 m. It was done by Latvian broadcast workers. Radio became popular in Latvia. The Latvian main industrial company VEF produced large numbers of the top quality radio receivers. The air was filled with news, weather news, children broadcasts,  music and many other programs. Radio was used by Karlis Ulmanis authoritarian regime, speeches and propaganda were played in the air.

As the Soviet occupation begun in 1940, the first thing that was captured was the Radio and Post office building. New regime fired many people from radio and changed the programs. The worshiping service broadcasts were removed and changed to Soviet propaganda.

As the new German occupation came the Latvian radio was added to German radio net (Deutche Rundfunk). The Germans again removed many workers and established the Ostland radio broadcast. When the Germans retreated from Latvia they dissembled or destroyed the radio equipment. Just day before leaving Riga the radio tower was brought down and Radio and Post office was set ablaze.

 After the war everything was destroyed and radio broadcasting was to start again from the scratch. In 1944 at Riga radio communication and radio broadcasting direction was established. The first radio studio site was located at Skolas street 6 now a Latvian Jewish society center. The name was changed many times until the main institution was named Latvian Radio and television center in 1972.

Many transmitter stations were built along Latvia. A new technology was discovered as the stereophonic broadcasts were made and the  shortwave band was discovered. Latvia Radio 2 was made in 1949, along with classical music program. For many years Radio was used as a propaganda tool by the Soviet government. The VEF continued to produce state of the art radios. Then in the late eighties after the lift of censorship the radio started to fight for Latvian independence. During the events of barricades and the August coup in 1991, radio was the only source of information. Radio workers went to the secret transmitting site  in case if the coup in Moscow succeeds.

 After the reigning of the independence Latvian radio became a nonprofit organization. The generous state funding from the Soviet time was shortened and Radio had to cancel transmitting in medium waves and shortwaves. Now Latvian Radio is only available in FM band.

Right now the  Latvian radio has 5 stations. LR 1 is the main news, comments and information broadcaster. LR 2 is for entertainment and plays only Latvian music. LR 2 is one of the most popular radio stations in Latvia. LR 3   plays classical music and jazz. LR 4 broadcasts in Russian language. LR 5 Naba is an alternative music station mainly for university students.  LR 1 in Riga is on 90,7 MHz, LR 2 on 91, 5 MHz, LR 3 103,7 MHz, LR 4 107, MHz. Latvian Radio is also available on the internet from the main site.

The radio must compete with many commercial radios that works on the FM band. The most popular commercial radio is Radio SWH that also has a rock station and Russian language version, also the Radio Skonto, Star FM, Radio 101 and many others. There is a Latvian Christian Radio and many Russian language radios along with local radios. Only Latvian station on medium wave is Radio Merkurs. A last shortwave station that transmitted in Latvian was the Vatican Radio. It halted its broadcast in 2012.

Right now Latvian Radio works in Dome Square 8 in Riga. There is a discussion of merging Latvian Radio with Latvian State television to save money on state financing. No matter the decisions Latvian Radio will be in the air as long as the Latvia exists and will be a symbol of the country.

Selected Sources:

Kruks, Sergejs. “Hallo šeit Rīga, radiofons!” http://www.arhivi.lv/sitedata/ZURNALS/zurnalu_raksti/45-73-VESTURE-Kruks-Radio..pdf


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