Radiotehnika – The Latvian Radio Flagman

Radiotehnika vimpel

Radiotehnika vimpel

On October 20 1907 Aleksandrs Apsītis was born in workers family. At the age of 16 he came to work in Riga Telephone Office and practiced as telephone repairman. With his skill he then made his first radio receiver. From 1923 to 1930 he studied at Riga Craftsman School and evening technical school. At the same time on 1926 Abrāms Leibovics gained production rights for his designed radio receivers. His company was called Abrams Leibovics photo radio central. On 1928 Apsītis received request from the Ministry of Interior to construct 200 three lamp battery-powered receivers. Together with E Krasovskis he made a company called “Jauda” (Power). The 200 radio receivers were made, but because of swindlery made by Krasovskis the company was closed.

Rīgafons the first radio designed by Aleksandrs Apsītis in Abrams Leibovics radio company

Rīgafons the first radio designed by Aleksandrs Apsītis in Abrams Leibovics radio company

Then Apsītis came to work at Leibovics company to organize the production of radio receivers. He first made two lamp plugged radio receiver “RīgaFons”. It was a 1 AM circuit(s), with Magnetic loudspeaker (reed) of high quality (4 magnet poles). The model was a success and Leibovics company gained profit 10 000 Lats. Two more models were made. On 1932 Apsītis however, had disagreements with Leibovics, and he was fired.

Apsītis restarted his radio business on 1933 when he founded his radio production company “A. Apsītis un F. Žukovskis”. With help from Siemens company that gave rights for use of Telefunken made radio lamps and Siemens schematics Apsītis again produced new radio receivers. His first was Toņmiestars – the Tone Master. MW and LW radio was a success. He produced 2500-3000 receivers in a year. On 1935 he produced T420 Concert Super. It included also Shortwave. It was radio with 4-AM circuits and with superb audio quality for those days.

Concert Super radio made by Apsītis company

Concert Super radio made by Apsītis company

On 1940 there were 70 people employed in the factory. There were many other private radio companies. Not just in Riga, but also in Liepāja. On 1938 there were 29 such companies. Meanwhile the main state-owned company VEF also made series of top quality radios. However, after Latvia was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union, everything was nationalized including Apsītis company. The company was renamed as “Radiotechnika” (Radio Technics). Leibovics company was renamed to Radio Pionieris (Radio Pioneer). Soviets trusted Apsītis and made him as the executive director of the Radiotehnika company. After German invasion on 1941 Radiotehnika was united with Radio Pionieris and called “Telefunken Geratewerk Riga”.  It was run by Baltic German Blauberg. Apsītis took the technical operator office. Company only fulfilled the orders of the German military and made no new radio receivers for civilians.

On 1944 as the Soviets were approaching Germans issued order to evacuate all the equipment. Apsītis and his co-workers fooled the Germans by placing rocks and metal stuff into packs, while digging the equipment in the basement rooms. With this the work of the factory was soon restarted.

Riga T689 the first Radiotehnika produced receiver

Riga T689 the first Radiotehnika produced receiver

Soviets took over the German unified Apsītis-Leibovics company and called it Radiotehnika. Leibovics was deported by the Soviets to Siberia and died there. Apsītis was placed as the director of the new company. As 1945 it was ready to produce first radios. First radio receiver produced was Riga T-689 with LW, MW and 3 Shortwave bands. Its followup T-755 was impressive success. It was 25% cheaper than other radios and had only three bolts to hold the construction. LW, MW and SW continuous reception from 4 kHz to 12.5 kHz.   Riga B912 was first battery-powered receiver, for MW and LW bands. Riga -10 made in 1952 and Festivals on 1958 were famous tabletop receivers outside Soviet Union.

Radiotehnika Festival

Radiotehnika Festival

On 1948 Apsītis received the title of Honorable Science and Technical worker of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic that meant higher salary and other extras. However, as the company became more famous, the ruling Stalinist regime turned against him. On 1951 the company was named after Alexander S Popov the famous Russian radio builder. Apsītis was blamed for deliberate mismanagement by producing defective models. In the atmosphere of repressions against pre-war intellectuals and scientists, the local communist leaders including Vilis Lācis decided to fire him from his directors office. Soon he was arrested. He spent four months in prison and after the death of Joseph Stalin was released.

However, the four months in jail was psychologically devastating for Apsītis. He came to work as Gomprotorg factory as radio and TV repair worker. Later he went to Academy of Sciences in the Institute of Physics as the chief of sector. On 1956 he was asked to work in governmental Science and Technical committee. By his own words he made “nothing worthly” as he could not fit into new workplace. On 1958 his health made him to leave for pension. As 2th category disabled person he moved to Rauna where he built his own house. He helped the local collective farm (kolhozs) in technical repairs and made his own garden of rare trees and plants. Despite all the hardships he was not forgotten and when during the Radiotehnika anniversary celebration the chief engineer Vladimirs Martinsons called him the “father of Radiotehnika” everyone stood up and applauded. He died on September 1 1988.

The Radiotehnika company still continued to work as Riga Radio Factory named after A S Popov. On 1971 it was unified with Riga Electro Mechanical company, Kandava Radio Factory and radio constructors office Orbīta (Orbit) and named Radiotehnika. A 54,61 meter tall building was built for the factory.

Many new radio receivers were built Sakta first class lamp radio. Rigonda 102 stereo system, Simfonija Hi-Fi system, just to name the few. Surely the free market companies in the West made better quality receivers, but the production of Radiotehnika had high standard quality.  Special car radios were made also.

Hi-Fi Stereo system Melodija -101

Hi-Fi Stereo system Melodija -101

As the trend of so called transistor radios  that were a lot better than lamp radios, the Radiotehnika made the first tabletop transistor radio Ausma on 1962. Then more lighter LW and MW portable Gauja radio was made. On 1964 the Orbīta portable included SW band. But, the most known Radiotehnika portable was Selga. They were released in many variations, many of them came in special leather cases. Selga-309 was revolutionary model for it could fit in pocket and was no bigger than modern Mp3 player. Kandava factory office made Salena series radios with FM reception.

Selga-405 in black leather  case

Selga-405 in black leather case

Closer to eighties first superb receivers with cassette players were released. Special gadgets as voice recorders, walkie-talky radios. Large part of production was secretly allocated to the Soviet military needs. Most Soviet civilian factories were forced to carry out secret requests from the Soviet army. During the Soviet era the Radiotehnika was not the only one Latvian top radio producer. VEF was the largest electric products company and is well known for its VEF Spīdola transistors the first portable shortwave radio in USSR.

Riga 110 cassette player radio

Riga 110 cassette player radio

However, then great changes occurred on 1991-1992. Latvia regained its independence and the prize for this was the collapse of the Latvian radio industry. Radiotehnika and VEF descended into various privately owned companies. As the Soviet market was destroyed and there was no more requests from the Soviet army. However, Radiotehnika was not lost completely. Right now its known as VEF Radiotehnika RRR.  Its current production is acoustic systems and rated positively by experts.

Latvia was a top radio producer even before WW2 and would be so for many years if there would be no war. The Soviet technical quality was not so good comparing to western companies, but these radios were part of everyday Latvian life. With them they could hear music from the west, listen to Radio Free Europe while battling with radio jammers. Culture life despite many soviet prejudices culture in Soviet Latvia was on high level. And in a time with no internet and ipads these radios were top technical gadgets in every home. And the fact that many of them still work today says much about their quality and legacy.

Selected Sources:

 http://www.pipkalejs.lv/cd/sp/laikagramata/oktobris/apsitis.htm

http://www.radiopagajiba.lv/RRR/rrrhome.htm

http://www.radiomuseum.org/

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