Archive: Computer Collector Newsletter / Technology Rewind, Jan. 2004 - March 2006

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The meaning of tech collecting

by Christine Finn

As an archaeologist I am fascinated with the way old technology is incorporated -- knowingly -- into the new. Computer collectors who are also techies and have a history in the industry are in a great position to drive this phenomenon.

Not least, I think one of the biggest changes we are encountering right now as consumers is the emergence of the retro technology market. Not the buying of old kit as an antique (I recently picked up an old Westinghouse Electric projector complete with a reel from the 1920s for $30 because I want to see the film still on it!) but a conscious merging of old and new.

Here's a quick example: last week I made some major purchases to help me work better from home as a freelance print and broadcast journalist -- fast business broadband, Freeview (a digital box to receive a number of extra BBC and other channels), an updated cell phone with video capability -- and a new radio. But did I get a digital one? No, I bought a new retro model.

It's a Bush-make "Traditional Radio Receiver" marketed as a special edition for the Queen's Golden Jubilee of 2002, with a picture of Westminster Abbey on the front. It was reduced to $40 in sale, but that wasn't the reason I bought it. I found myself hankering after the shape and the 1950s styling -- cream with navy trim.

As the box reads: "An updated reproduction of one of the most famous radios ever made." The enclosure for the "Antique Radio," as it says, reads: "Bush Radio are pleased to look back at this classic design with the TR82, part of the Bush Nostalgias range of Audio Products. The quality sound reproduction from the modern technology of today, married with classical styling, evokes the simple elegance of a bygone era." There is even a certificate of authenticity, featuring a copy of the signature of Phil Dillon, Bush Radio PLC. I used it last night for the first time -- to listen to a programme which I was presenting on BBC Radio 3, about archaeology and poetry. ( -- A programme made with the aid of the latest digital technology!)

The sound emanating from the radio does sound different to digital, and it certainly evokes something if not from my childhood, then the later models I grew up with. Unlike the gizmo-heavy cellphone I bought, this radio is big but has few bells and whistles. Just a clear dial and tone control. It is a reminder of radio from that era.. .a poetry of Third and Light programmes, and tuning idents ...Moscow, Scottish, Oslo, Motala, Eireann, Hilversum Budapest... one almost expects 1950s news broadcasts to sound out from the ribbed-plastic speaker.

I didn't buy the radio from a specialist store, nor an electrical retailer -- but from Habitat, best known for its stylish furniture and home accessories. I think it's a safe bet that -- years from now -- the retro styling of computers will by taken up as interior chic... but then I've always had a thing about Commodore Pets!